Saturday, 5 January 2008

Worship

MATTHEW 2:1-12

It all seems very sudden this year.

We’ve celebrated the new year, the schools have already been back 2 days, and in case you hadn’t realised, Easter is only two and a half months away.

This is the Sunday that the church calls Epiphany. Epiphany means literally ‘concerning the light’, and we remember the wise men who travelled to Jesus by the light of the star. Please turn to Matthew 2:1-12

It is a significant passage for us at the beginning of the year, because it is about worship.

v2,v8,v11

It is about an act of worship. The wise men bow down before the child.

But it also tells us about worship as lifestyle.

In Romans 12:2, Paul tells the Roman Christians, ‘in view of God’s mercy .. present your bodies as living sacrifices, which is their spiritual (or reasonable) worship”.

And it is appropriate to start the year looking at worship, because worship is what we are about.

The Westminster catechism states that “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” Worship is about glorifying God. It is about having special moments when we glorify God, and it is about glorifying God with all of our lives.

Our own vision statement says that we seek ‘to worship the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit’

And we try to do this in acts of worship on Sundays, in homegroups and in our daily prayer times. But we also seek to do it in the rest of our lives, 24/7, what I would call lifestyle worship.

So we are going to look at what it meant for the wise men to worship
1. Their worship was focussed on Jesus

In this passage he is described as the King of the Jews (v1), as the ruler and shepherd of Israel (v6). And yet non-Jews, non-Israelites come to worship him. And we have already been told in Matthew that this child is Immanuel, God with us, and we very quickly learn that he is the Son of God.

The wise men go to where Jesus is.

Of course, for us, since the cross and resurrection, we do not need to go to a special place to meet with Jesus.

But the picture of a journey is a useful picture for lifestyle worship.

We are on a journey through life. The direction has been set by Jesus. He is the one who travels with us. The goal of the journey is to see him better. Eventually it is to meet him face to face.

It involves speaking of Jesus. Notice how the wise men naturally go to Jerusalem and say, “Where is the one who is the King of the Jews?”. Witness is not simply about arguing or proclaiming that Jesus is the Son of God. It can be as little as going on holiday and asking the people who own the bed and breakfast, “Where is the nearest church which has services, because we would like to go to worship”.

Interestingly, it involves uncertainty, and times of doubt. Obviously the star disappears from the sight of the wise men. (v10 tells us that they were overjoyed when they saw the star, so it must have disappeared at some point). They have found guidance from the bible, and from those who knew their bible. And there are many times in our Christian life when we live by faith in what God has said, and not by experience.

So, their worship was focussed on Jesus

2. Their worship involved submission to Jesus.

It begins with the recognition that Jesus is a king, that he is in fact the king of the Jews, but that he is more than that.

That is why they bow down before him.

One of the things that I greatly valued from our time in the Orthodox seminary was discovering the use of the body in worship. It seems slightly strange that we worship God with our bodies for the whole of the week, in the way we live, but when we come to church we only use the top half of our head.

And so there is a great deal of bowing. Bowing before the scriptures, bowing before the image of the cross. bowing before the icons representing Christ.

I remember remarking to one lady, that I had a problem bowing before an icon. She replied, “Yes Malcolm, I suspect that you would have a problem bowing to anything or anyone”. It was one of those comments that make you think!

Of course, the challenge is to ensure that my bowing before the cross is imaged or reflected in my lifestyle. But I guess that is true of my words just as much as of my actions. I state in church that ‘Jesus is Lord’. The challenge is whether I actually live those words. Am I someone who bows before Christ in my daily life.

When Malcolm Rogers wants to do this …
But Jesus Christ wants me to do that (and it usually is quite clear)
Who wins?

Herod of course saw the idea of another king, and submission to another king, as profoundly threatening. He could not cope with the idea of submitting to a higher authority. And as a result, he does what many people do: he tries to deny it and to smash it.

I don’t know who has seen the film the Golden Compass. It is the film version of the first of Pullman’s Northern Lights trilogy. It is a very good and well worth going to see. I am not really giving anything away when I say that it is about a child who sets out to smash the higher authority, the magisterium – which in the novels, at least, becomes more and more explicitly the church. But Pullman has made this higher authority a real aunt sally, an organisation which wishes to rule for the sake of ruling, even if it means suppressing the truth, and destroying people in the process of suppressing the truth. It is backed up by God, who turns out in the last book to be a feeble old man, who is being kept alive by the magisterium and who needs to be allowed to die so that there can be freedom.

The teaching of the bible is that Jesus is king, and that we do, like the wise men, need to bow before him. But paradoxically – and this is something that Herod had not realised – it is as we worship him, as we bow before him, that we are set free. The wise men are wise precisely because they came and bowed before Jesus.


That is why the second of the main questions that we are asked at baptism is the question: “Do you submit to Christ as Lord?” Do you bow before him.

3. Their worship involves surrender to Jesus

The wise men give gifts to Jesus

We often focus on the gifts, and what they tell us about Jesus, but here I would have us focus on the givers. v11 tells us, ‘They opened their treasures’.

These were things that they valued, they were precious to them. And yet they gave them to Jesus.

Jesus tells us, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”. They left something of themselves with Jesus.

That is why bringing the collection forward is an integral part of our act of worship. We are offering our treasure to him.

We will be talking about giving later this year. Partly we have to! We have a deficit budget of £26k! But it is not just because of that. It is because what we surrender to Jesus is a sure way of revealing where our heart is.

Think what you put in the collection plate (or give through standing order or however) – not the amount, but rather what it cost you. £10 might seem a great deal to give. But £10 of a weekly income of £250? Is that really giving of your treasure? Is that what Jesus Christ means to us?

And it is not just money. The first time the word ‘worship’ is sued in the bible is in Genesis 22. Abraham has been told to sacrifice his son in a particular place. He sets out there with his son and his servants, but he hasn’t told anyone what he is going to do. As he gets close to the place, he says to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you”.

Worship for Abraham means the giving up of the son who God had promised him and for whom he had waited many many years.
Worship for Isaac, the son, meant the giving up of his life.

That story is revealing, because God gives Abraham his son back, and God gives Isaac his life back. But we must not assume that God will give us back what we give to him.

Worship involves the giving of our treasure, the surrender of our treasure to our King.


At the beginning of this new year, we need to learn to bow

Not necessarily to symbols – although sometimes it can be helpful

But certainly, inwardly, in spirit and in truth, in heart and in mind we need to learn to bow before Jesus Christ, the king, the Son of God

We need to learn to submit to him, to do what he wants and not we want.
We need to learn to surrender to him, to give him of our treasure.

For it is in that, we find true worship.

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