Go the Distance–So to Honor Him

This is post #3 of my walk through the book of Matthew. It’s looking like a pretty leisurely stroll. Three posts per week may be a bit of a stretch, so I have to extend some grace to myself–which is so hard for me to do! Regardless of the number of posts, I’m enjoying this. I’m spending several days reflecting on just a small section of a chapter; today’s post covers Matthew 2:1-12. It’s a different exercise than doing a daily reading and moving on to the next thing the very next day. If you feel challenged or encouraged, please comment and share!

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” Matthew 2:1-2

Quite possibly the most excruciating Bible lesson I’ve ever sat through was over this passage. As a young adult I attended a church heavily populated by seminary students. I loved the church, the pastor, the teaching, all of it. But, being in a Sunday school class packed with would-be scholars (when you ain’t one) has its drawbacks. On one hand, we never had a teacher shortage at that church. On the other, everybody thinks they’re teaching the class.

We endured, for far too long, the argument discussion over exactly what the wise men followed to find Jesus. Was it a nova? Jupiter and Saturn positioned closely together? A comet? No, no, it can’t be this. It must be that. Haven’t you read what so and so wrote on the subject? My professor from thus and such class says… Not that theories aren’t interesting, but listening to a bunch of guys holding the lesson hostage, all trying to one-up each other, just made me want to throw a chair.

If memory serves, in my tried and true, opinionated, foot-in-the-mouth demeanor, I steered the conversation toward the wise men themselves. Like a bull in a china shop. Hey, at least I didn’t throw a chair. I’m so proud of me.

I like the story of the wise men because they were foreigners. They didn’t belong to this geographical area, or the culture, or the religion. Yet, they came to worship the king of the Jews. Huh. That’s odd. It needs explaining.

Like the star, theories abound for the origin of the wise men as well. My favorite traces the Magi’s journey from Babylon. Because the Jews were held in captivity in Babylon, and some never returned from there, wise men in that area easily could have been influenced by Jewish traditions, writings, and prophecies.  I like this explanation for so many reasons—mainly because I like the irony that God would call someone out of Babylon to worship Him. Other theories purport that the wise men came from more distant places, perhaps India or even China. Whatever the case, it doesn’t matter that much. While I enjoy tossing these options around, I really only need what is provided for me by Matthew.

A number of things get my attention here. They came from far off and brought offerings for worship. We don’t know exactly how far they traveled, but from the explanations available through historical study, even a conservative estimate might figure around 900 miles. In that day, a trip of that distance could be covered in a few months, possibly less. Still—two months? Three months? To search for the king of a people that isn’t even yours? This is an expedition, not a vacation. It’s not something they planned on a whim. Furthermore, the bible tells us that the wise men took a different route when they returned to their own country. If we assume they took the most direct route to Jerusalem, then isn’t it possible that they took a longer route to get home? After all, they were avoiding Herod, so it makes sense to choose an unexpected route to cover their tracks.

So, just guesstimating at three months both ways, this trip was no bargain. It would have taken them away from every other thing in their lives. Whatever comprised their lives before the trip had to be put on hold–the cause of Christ was about all that remained.

Here’s something to think about. The Magi went the distance to worship the Lord. I’m not qualified to do a lot of speculating as I’ve done only minimal research—but I’m not sure the Magi understood who Jesus truly was, or who He would later claim to be. Their knowledge of the Christ would have been limited to Jewish prophecies—and we don’t even have evidence that they were aware of these prophecies at all. They did know that He was the king of the Jews and that He was worthy of worship. They acted on God’s call to go the distance and worship.

Then there’s the Magi’s actual act of worship. Matthew said they were overjoyed and bowed. One article I read said the gifts they presented would have been typical gifts to bring a king. Now, don’t you think it a little strange that after a long journey in which they expected to find the heir to a throne, to be filled with joy upon arriving at a poor carpenter’s house? Matthew does not indicate any measure of disappointment or hesitation, only joy and worship. They bowed and gave their costly gifts to a child, born poor. What a beautiful story of faith and obedience.

My wise preacher husband taught on worship once. It made an impression on me. Worship, he said, is the acknowledgment of His worth to us. Worship is a devotion that should reflect the value of the One we worship. I think about these wise men, about how they put their entire lives aside to go the distance and worship the Christ, when they had limited information about where He was and who He was. They didn’t have the benefit of the New Testament to educate them on the worth of the Christ. We have the gospels. Christ’s purpose is fully explained for us. He is so valuable that cost of His blood is enough to cover the sins of mankind. His worth is so astronomically high that His death bought us back from evil and death.

Now, consider what the wise men had available to engage in worship. There is no choir, organ, or piano. There is no band, no worship team. No guitars, microphones, worship leader or sound checks. There is no argument over which song or style is better. There are no preferences for this or that. They simply bow. They put their lives completely aside so that the only thing that can possibly be acknowledged is the value of the One they worship.

So, how do you worship? Full disclosure. . . I might be teetering on the edge of putting my toes upon your bad side. I apologize in advance.

I sang in a worship band for years. The last thing that I want to do is minimize the importance of corporate worship through music. But let me give you an idea of what it looks like from the stage. I saw a lot of picking. Yawning and stretching. Shifting from foot to foot. Maybe a quick check on the ol’ phone. Glancing at the watch. Down in the youth pews, a little flirting maybe. I saw many bored, complacent faces. It could not be more evident that attending “worship” is not at all convenient.  Even the small act of regular church attendance is too much to ask for some Christians. The wise men go the distance; we can’t skip a soccer game to be in church.

Let me backtrack a smidge and tell you that I’m the chief of sinners. God taught me a lot of lessons on worship the hard way. I endured a lot of loss before I recognized the depth of my sin in light His abundant mercy. One of those sins was that I stood on the stage for a lot of years with nary a clue what the value of my salvation truly was. How could I “lead worship”? I couldn’t. Not really. Oddly, I realized that there was a disconnect between His worth and my worship, and I had to pray for Him to set me straight. It hurt. But I absolutely do not regret it.

My prayer is that whatever I write today makes a difference—that someone’s life would change because I wrote what He wanted said about worship. Go the distance. Make a sacrifice. Put the stuff that comprises your life entirely aside and examine the immeasurable value of a King who would die for you. Ask Him how to make your life—not just on Sunday during a song service, but every day—reflect His worth.

Here are some questions to consider:

  • How does a person worship from Monday through Saturday?
  • What does going the distance in worship look like for us?
  • Are you trying to live a life that reflects the worth of the Lord Jesus?
  • If not, what’s stopping you? What needs to change?

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