Observing True Worshipers

For some time now I have been thinking about and considering a study on the topic of worship. I have read many statements on worship like, “we are all worshipers.” “All” as in everyone on the planet, not just Christians. Others have said, “everyone worships something,” or “we were created by God to be worshipers.” Some would even be so bold to say, “we, every one of us, is worshiping something every moment of every day.” In other words, we never cease to worship. That would mean that right now in this moment you and I are currently worshiping, worshiping something or someone. If that statement is true then as you were driving to church you were a worshiper, or as I entered through the church doors I was worshiping. So worship didn’t begin as we gathered today corporately to sing songs; it never began because it never ended.

So as I have pondered these things, I have wanted to better understand worship for the purpose of self-examination. As I spoke with Mark and Bilal, they agreed with me that we should take some time and study this topic together corporately as a church. So, we are going to do that. For the next few weeks we are going to break away from our study through Philippians. We finished up chapter two, so two chapters down and two to go, a good breaking point, and we will take a look at this idea of worship together.

It is a vast subject, when you think of worship, with myriads of implications in our lives. We won’t cover everything we could on worship, but I hope and pray that as we go together through this topic of worship, that we do come to a deeper understanding of what it means to be a 24/7 worshiper of God. Beyond an understanding of that, that we will become that, a worshiper of God. It is hard to know where to start, but I want to give you a general idea of where we are headed, as long as you realize it may be altered some as we go. You can pencil this in, but don’t use a sharpie. I don’t go into this with all the answers, I go into this as a learner, and so I am expecting to learn each week something about worship, and God may take us down a little different path than what I have planned.

I want to start this week with an example of worship. In fact for the next three to four weeks we will look at illustrations, real-life examples of worship from God’s Word. From these examples we will begin to draw out implications for each of us individually and even corporately as a church. So I plan that we will go from examples, illustrations of worship, to implications and principles of worship. From there my hope is to get even more specific, that is to forms of worship individually and corporately. That is sort of our roughly planned direction. In this will be sprinkled in many other things, including major hinderances to worship – what keeps us from spiritual worship – and heart motivations for worship. So it is a full plate; it will be challenging for me, and I hope it will be both helpful and challenging for you as well. So that is the plan, the plan under submission to a sovereign God.

There are so many associations that come up when I just say the word “worship.” It would be interesting for me to just throw that word out and hear your response. I tried that with a few people, and I won’t even tell you what I got in return, but it was very interesting. There are so many associations that can come to mind with that word. Some may think of things from the Old Testament. You may think of the tabernacle, the temple, of priests and animal sacrifices. Maybe you think of posture in worship, like lifting hands, bowing down, or laid out, face-down on the ground. Maybe you think of various emotions like joy, fear, happiness, or even sorrow. You may think of a time, like Sunday morning at 10:00am, or early morning alone with God, or late night after the kids are in bed as you open the Word of God in focused devotional reading, or a Friday night listening to praise songs on the radio or a praise band in concert. You may think of a person, like God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, an athlete, an actor or actress, a boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse. We hear phrases like, “He worships the ground she walks on.” Worship may be associated with deity or with a mere mortal man.

We may even, in a very subtle way, want to be worshipped. We may not say that, but we may want it. We may desire to be at the center of another person’s world, to be praised, honored, respected, served, waited upon by this other person. We may get some idea that this other person was created solely for us, for me, and I may want that person to act like they understand this fact too. We may want to be worshiped.

My point is that we all come to this word “worship” from very different view points, and from different experiences. We don’t all approach this subject with the same mind. And so there is a sense in which I just want to start chipping around the edges of our thought where that needs to happen, so that what we end up with is not an experience-based view or a worldly-influenced view of what worship is, but that we all come together to a biblical, godly view of what worship is and of what it means for us to be worshipers of the Most High God. My hope additionally is that lives will be changed.

With that, turn with me to Matthew chapter 2, and let’s look at this first example of worship. As we do, I want us to just make some observations from this passage as we consider this idea of worship.

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, 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. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way. (Matthew 2:1-12)

This is a familiar passage for most of us. Even for unchurched people in our society it is somewhat familiar because it is most often brought up around the Christmas season. Since it is familiar I’m not going to go into a lot of background and setting, but I do want to give you a few things regarding context and background. First just regarding the people mentioned in this account.

First we have Herod. Herod is said to be the king – Herod had been appointed by Rome to be king, and he was called “King of the Jews.” He was not Jewish, though, so he married a Jew to fit in with the people he was trying to rule over. He was a man who understood power, and when it would benefit him he would show himself to be a gracious king, he was gifted at working the people to get what he wanted. He gave, at times, generously to the people. But at the heart of the man, Herod, because of his drive for self-gratification, he was a very cruel man. So much so that he had his brother-in-law killed, his wife, and even a son killed. Power was his god, and self-gratification was achieved through his power. Right before he died he had some of the most respected men in Jerusalem arrested, and he gave an order that upon his death all these respected men would be executed. He did this apparently because he knew that no one would mourn his death, so with the death of all these respected men it assured that at the time of his death there would be mourning in Jerusalem. I don’t know if there could be a more self-consumed man. It is scary, isn’t it? To see where self-centeredness can lead. This background is important for our understanding this morning because it helps us to put some context around Herod’s words in Matthew 2:8 when he said to the wise men, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” Herod’s stated desire to worship Jesus would be very inconsistent with who he was as a man. His desire was to be worshiped, not to worship another. So right off the bat here, one thing we can consider is this: selfish desires and pursuits stand as a giant wall or barricade keeping us from true worship of God.

Second we have the wise men. We don’t know a lot about the wise men really. There is a great deal of speculation about them, and some historical context that gives us some good ideas about them. What we know for sure, though, is what we have here in this passage. What do we know? They had expensive gifts. They were educated, probably in the sciences. They had received some sort of revelation from God, and responded to it in a positive way. They desired to worship Christ, the Messiah, the Savior. We will talk more about them as we go.

Third we have the chief priests and scribes. The chief priests and the scribes were men of significant religious and political power. They were the primary leaders of the Jews, and they were summoned by Herod so he could consult with them over where the Christ-child might be.

Lastly we see Mary and our Savior as a baby, Jesus Christ. Mary the mother of Jesus and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ were visited by the wise men.

As this account begins to unfold, we see the word “worship” used three times. Once it is used by Herod, who says in verse 8 that he wants to worship Jesus. Herod’s desire was far from worship. We see his true motives as he tries to kill Jesus by his decree to have all male babies killed in the hope of murdering Jesus. A willingness to murder children in order to maintain his power, position, and place in society. Because one says he wants to worship the Lord doesn’t mean anything really, does it? Words don’t always reveal one’s true heart.

Worship regarding the wise men seems much different. Their worship contained much more than mere words. In fact we see several components of worship through simple observation of this text, and I want us to look at them together. 

These men, these wise men, were on a journey. Their journey had a purpose. It was a journey of worship, to worship. How was it a journey to worship? There are many components, many indicators, many observations that we are going to look at. This is at least in part what worship is, or what worship ought to be. So we’re going to see real worship demonstrated by the wise men.

First, their worship began with God and stirred them to great effort. Verses 2-3 – “’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.’ When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him;”

There was a revelation that took place from God to man, from God to these wise men about a star, “His Star,” which was the beginning of what would eventually lead to their seeing Jesus face-to-face. Where did their worship begin? It began with God. We are not told in the Bible how God told the wise men that Jesus had been born, nor how they exactly knew that the star was related to His birth. There has been much speculation about this, but we do know that God somehow made it known to these men that this most important event had just taken place, that the Savior had been born. God revealed some things to them first, then their journey of worship began upon this revelation from God. Worship for these men began with God, in the mind of God.

We are wholly incapable as men and women and children to, on our own, of our own accord, to lay ourselves aside and worship another. We are incapable of that of our own accord. We are wholly bent on self-worship, apart from a miraculous intervention from Almighty God. Apart from heart transformation, God revealing Himself to us, the Holy Spirit revealing to us the awesomeness of God and who He is, apart from that we are people enslaved to self-worship. God was gracious to direct these men, to reveal truth to them about His work, to lead them to a place of God-ward worship. It is not our bent, it’s a supernatural work of God. This supernatural work of God in their hearts, this revelation that occurred from God to these wise men prompted them to exert great effort, leading them to find Jesus to worship Him. They were energized to worship, having received revelation from God.

“For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:2)

This effort included planning a journey, gathering supplies and people, traveling, inquiring of people around them, meeting with Herod the king of the land, and eventually finding the Lord Jesus with His mother. Effort was put forth in response to a knowledge of and a word from the Most High.

We have God’s Word, He has revealed Himself to us. We know Him and His Son Jesus Christ, we have so much more than these wise men ever had. We belong to God as Christians, we are a part of His family. What sort of effort, energy, is exerted in your, in my worship, having known these things? I mean just in daily life? As we go through our day with a knowledge of the Most High God and our Savior Jesus Christ, are we worshiping Him? Do we worship?

Secondly, notice their attitudes of joy and rejoicing, not simply duty. Verses 9-10 – “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. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.”

Their worship was with great joy. They had come to worship the Lord, that was their purpose, and they were now getting very close, and their hearts were filled with joy! All we have is words here, we don’t see the wise men, we can’t see how this joy was expressed, but generally we know joy when we see it, don’t we? It doesn’t look the same with every person, joy, it doesn’t look the same with every event, but joy is joy. Some say, “Well, it is a deep heart attitude and that’s all it is.” Yes, it is a heart attitude, but I think it also includes emotion. These men were overwhelmed. In the original language it just sort of piles on these words of emotion. In our translation it is similar. “They rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.” It does not simply say that they were joyful. It says they rejoiced exceedingly. Like if I said, “I saw your son driving on the highway last night, and he was speeding, exceedingly.” You would know what I mean, right? Like he was really, really, really speeding. The wise men were really, really, really rejoicing. I don’t know what that looked like. I don’t know if they were doing a happy dance maybe, or high-fiving each other, I don’t know, but it was excessive! How were they excessively rejoicing? With great joy! You see how it’s kind of piling words upon words, and emotion, all of that on top of each other. These guys must have really been carrying on! They were a happy bunch. I don’t know that we think of them like that, these “old wise men.” They were excited.

Worship – back to our word, worship – can we say that worship should be filled with joy? Paul says, “Rejoice always, and again I say rejoice!” There is something wrong if our worship does not contain joy. How that looks is not prescribed in the Bible, external forms are not generally the issue, but the heart is. Where are we in our worship in this matter of joy?

Third, notice the wise men’s response as they entered into the place where Jesus was. Verse 11 – “And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him.”

Another component of worship is humility. They fell down, perhaps recognizing their lowliness and His majesty. They had just come face-to-face with Jesus. They immediately recognized their lowliness and His majesty. Humility is a component of worship. Recognizing His place and recognizing our place. I think we can think of it as a venture into reality, of who we are, and who He is. I think too often we live in some kind of dream world, putting ourselves in a high place in that dream world, imagining ourselves as lofty, we can focus on who we think we are, and even try to help other people focus on who we think we are. That is not reality, that is a dream world, a fantasy. Worship corrects all of that. Humility in worship corrects that. These men were powerful men, wise men, rich men, men of influence in their land. They had just met with the king, Herod, and were themselves kingly. And yet, in the presence of this baby, an awe, a respect, reality overcame them, and they fell down and they worshiped. Worship takes us to reality, helping us to see who we are in light of who He is.

Fourth, worship is a demonstration of the worth of Christ. After they fell down they gave gifts. Verse 11 – “Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.”

As an expression of worship they gave costly gifts out of their treasures. Much has been said about these gifts, why were these particular gifts given, how costly were they really, how would they benefit Jesus and His family? There are many questions we can ask, but we simply do not have answers. What we do know is this: they were items that these men treasured, they came from their treasures. And giving these gifts they were saying, “Though we treasure these things, we treasure you more. We will part with our treasures to show that we treasure you more. You are of more worth than these things that we possess.” Worship, at least the English word, speaks of ascribing worth to. He, the Lord Jesus Christ, was worth more than their possessions. If you think about these men in particular, they had already given their time in travel and preparation for travel, and now they were giving their things. Jesus apparently was worth more to them than their personal use of time or money. Worship is an indicator of what we treasure.

Lastly, true worship demonstrates boldness. Verse 12: “And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.”

The king of the land had given them instruction. The king had told them what to do. And for the sake of Jesus, these men chose to defy the king. This is no small matter. They were in fact saying, “Jesus is worth more than my life.” Remember who this man Herod is, he had his own family killed to maintain his power and position. He had innocent men arrested to be executed, so that people would mourn on the day he died. He was ruthless, he had innocent children murdered to protect his power. This is the man that these men chose to defy. And yet they did it – why? Perhaps because Christ was more precious than life itself. Is that not also an attitude of worship?

I realize that we have talked about worship, and looked at an illustration of worship, and I have not spent any time defining worship. I didn’t forget that, it was purposeful, and I will get to that. But today my goal has been to simply observe worship. To observe worship in this account of the wise men who visited Jesus. Simply to observe, and from that to draw a few conclusions. And in drawing a few conclusions to just step back, each of us, and think, “I am to be a worshiper of God, and if I were to step back and observe my own worship, how might it compare to what we’ve read this morning? Similar, or very different?”

The wise men came to worship the Christ-child. What did we observe?

  1. Their worship began with God and required the exertion of energy; it was not passive
  2. Their worship overflowed with joy and rejoicing; it was not simply a dutiful exercise
  3. Their worship was humble; they recognized their lowliness and His majesty
  4. Their worship demonstrated that their treasure was Christ, and not worldly possessions
  5. Their worship displayed boldness, a boldness that comes when Christ is seen as our all, and even greater than life itself

Are we worshipers of God? If so, how would your worship, my worship, be described? 

As I’m trying to, from various texts, come up with a definition of worship, here’s a start from Matthew 2. At least for these wise men, their worship was: A God-initiated, energetic, joy-filled, whole-hearted, humble demonstration of the worth of the living and true God.

So the question for myself is, does that describe my worship? I pray that it will for all of us, and if it doesn’t now for any one of us that by God’s grace and His work in our hearts, that it will.

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. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way. (Matthew 2:7-12)