How did it come to pass that Jesus was born in Bethlehem? Let’s read Luke 2:1-7.
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)
So what’s the big deal that there was a census taken? To answer that, let’s read on in v3.
3 And everyone went to his own town to register. 4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
Do you see what is happening here? Joseph is from Bethlehem, but he’s not in Bethlehem. He’s in Nazareth. How does God insure that the Messiah in Mary’s womb is born in Bethlehem when Mary and Joseph are residing in Nazareth? God works through a pagan emperor, Caesar Augustus, who issues a decree that a census should be taken of the ENTIRE Roman world. Censuses are not that common. We had one in America a few years back and that cost the government boatloads of money and time and effort. v2 – even in the first century, it is noted that this census was the first one taken under Governor Quirinius. To think, God is orchestrating an entire pagan empire to accomplish His purposes.
As a result, now a couple of millennia later, here we are, a room full of Gentiles, who in this story are represented by the magi, here we are gathering to worship that same Jesus. We can worship Jesus because He is sovereign over all of human history. We see this in the fulfillment of Scripture in terms of the birthplace of the Messiah and His control over pagan rulers.
We also see God’s sovereignty in the star that guides the magi to Jesus. How did this “star” get the magi from the east to Jerusalem? It says, they saw a star in the east (verse 2), and came to Jerusalem. And how did that star go before them in the little five-mile walk from Jerusalem to Bethlehem as verse 9 says it did? And how did a star stand “over the place where the child was”? The answer is: we do not know.
But what is plain concerning this matter of the star is that it is doing something that it cannot do on its own: it is guiding magi to the Son of God to worship him. There is only one Person in biblical thinking that can be behind that kind of intentionality in the stars – God himself. So the lesson is plain: God is guiding foreigners to Christ to worship him. And he is doing it by bending the laws that govern the universe and the movements of stars to get it done. God’s power is awesome, it makes our jaws drop. How could he do that? Well, he did. There are these little details in Scripture that remind us, we are not reading a book about religion or morals. Or a nice plot to a children’s play. No, something much more fantastic and miraculous is at work. “The star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it STOPPED [meaning, it HOVERED] over the place where the child was.”
That’s awesome. This is not a children’s story. This is not Hollywood. There are no special effects at work here. This is reality as God unfolds His presence and intervenes in human history. May we never lose the wonder of the Christmas story.
May we never lose the wonder of a God, who in Luke, influences the entire Roman Empire so that the census comes at the exact time to get a virgin to Bethlehem to fulfil prophecy regarding the birthplace of her Son, the Messiah. That’s awesome. God is all-powerful. Matthew shows God influencing the stars in the sky to get foreign magi to Bethlehem so that they can worship him. God is awesome! He is to be worshiped!
This is God’s design. He did it then. He is still doing it now. His aim is that the nations – all the nations must worship his Son. His aim is that you may worship this God in your life, in your home, at your workplace, on your campuses, to the ends of the earth.
Second point: Jesus brings out opposition for those who do not want to worship Jesus.
In this story there are two kinds of people who do not want to worship Jesus, the Messiah. The first kind are the people who simply do nothing about Jesus. He is a nonentity in their lives. A non-factor. This group is represented by the chief priests and scribes.
4 When he [Herod] had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born.
Well, they told him, and that was that: back to business as usual. The sheer silence and inactivity of the religious leaders is overwhelming in view of the magnitude of what was happening. And notice, verse 3 says, “When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” In other words, the rumor was going around that someone thought the Messiah was born. The inactivity on the part of chief priests is staggering – why not go with the Magi? They are not interested. They do not want to worship the true God.
Why not? They have their religion. They have their traditions. They are in positions of leadership. They have the respect and applause of men. People listen to them. They are wise in their own eyes. They are comfortable. They have no curiosity when it comes to a baby boy from a no name town.
The second kind of people who do not want to worship Jesus is the kind who is deeply threatened by him. That is Herod in this story. He is really afraid. So much so that he schemes and lies and then commits mass murder in an attempt to get rid of Jesus.
So today these two kinds of opposition will come against Christ and his worshipers. Indifference and hostility. Are you in one of those groups? Let this Christmas be the time when you reconsider the Messiah and ponder what it means to worship him.
How is worship defined in this text?
Third point: Worshiping Jesus means joyfully ascribing authority and dignity to Christ with sacrificial gifts.
There are four pieces to that definition of worship, and all four are grounded in this text.
First, I see the magi ascribing authority to Christ by calling him “King of the Jews” in verse 2:
2 …Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?
A king is one who has authority.
Second, I see the magi ascribing dignity to him by falling down before him in verse 11:
11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.
Here it says, they bowed down, but the Greek indicates a stronger action. They didn’t merely bow down, they fell down. Falling to the ground is what you do to say to someone else: you are high and I am low. You have great dignity and worth and I am lowly by comparison.
Third, I see the joy in these ascriptions of authority and dignity in verse 10:
10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.
The Greek translation is much more expressive — When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. Joy cannot be contained in one word. Joy here requires 3 additional words–1) Rejoiced, 2) Exceedingly, with 3) Great joy. That’s a lot of joy.
This is a triple way of saying they rejoiced. It would have been much to say they rejoiced. More to say they rejoiced with joy. More to say they rejoiced with great joy. And even more to say they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And what was all this joy about? They were on their way to the Messiah. They were almost there. They can’t wait. They are getting so excited. I cannot avoid the impression then that true worship is not just ascribing authority and dignity to Christ. It’s not just saying, Jesus, you are the true King. It is not just falling down and ascribing dignity and worth, you are dignified and worthy and I am lowly in comparison.
It is doing this JOYFULLY. Doing these things with joy. Full of joy. Coming to Jesus with joy. Overwhelmed by joy. You can’t wait to be near him. It is doing it because you have come to see something about Christ that is so desirable that being near him to ascribe authority and dignity to him personally is so compelling.
And the fourth part of the definition of worship here is that we do our ascribing with sacrificial gifts. Worshiping Jesus means ascribing authority and dignity to Christ joyfully and with sacrificial gifts.
If you think about it, God doesn’t need our gifts. God is God, He lacks nothing. So the gifts of the magi are not given because it adds anything to God or because God needs our gift. God is not insecure. He doesn’t need our worship, nor our gifts. Sometimes, we may give gifts to important people because we think that in the end somehow we will benefit. I might be nice to a king because I am trying to bribe him in a way to gain his favor so that I can gain something later on. God is not into bribes.
Then, why do the magi give gifts to Christ? The gifts are intensifiers of our desire for Christ himself. When you give a gift to Christ, it’s a way of saying, the joy that I pursue is not the hope of getting any blessing from you, Jesus. I have not come to you for your things, but for you, the Person. And this desire I now intensify and demonstrate by giving up things, in the hope of enjoying you more, not things. Isn’t this why Jesus asks us to surrender everything else? Deny yourself, lose yourself, surrender. For what reason? Toward what end? That we may follow Jesus and in so doing, that we may gain Jesus. That is why surrender is so important. God is not a cosmic killjoy. He doesn’t want to deprive you of everything that is good. Self-denial and having nothing is not the end. The end is Christ. Giving gifts to Christ. Laying down everything before Him. Because He is that precious. We want to worship Christ alone. Live for him alone. Follow him alone. And we express this ultimate desire by giving gifts to Jesus.
By giving to Jesus what He does not need, and what I might actually enjoy, like gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh, I am saying more earnestly and more authentically, Jesus, you are my treasure, not these things. That’s why whatever we hold dear, God asks us to surrender.
Why should we worship Jesus? Not only because he is the Messiah prophesied about in Scripture throughout the centuries. Not only because He has the power to control a pagan empire or to bend the laws of the universe so that the stars obey him. But we should worship Jesus because he came to die on a cross.