November 27, 2012

Advent Conspiracy: Worship Fully

We are beginning a new series called, “Advent Conspiracy.” The basic idea is to re-establish the significance and meaning of Christmas in our lives as Jesus’ followers. We are not in a culture war. We are not taking back Christmas from those pagans who stole it, and getting bent out of shape when our cashier responds with Happy Holidays. The problem is not that our culture has forgotten the meaning of Christmas...the problem is that it is so easy for us to get caught up in a different agenda and forget what it is about ourselves.

We want to focus over the next few weeks on practicing four simple, but powerful, counter-cultural concepts – worship fully, spend less, give more, and love all. This video explains more about where we’re headed.

At the end of this series, on Sunday, December 23 we are going to take up a special offering, in addition to our regular tithes and offering, and give it all away. You can put it in before that if you wish, but I am challenging you to spend less this Christmas season so that you can give more to others who truly need it. We will be giving it to an organization that provides wells for undeveloped communities around the world.

This morning we are looking at the first of the four principles and what it means to worship fully!

So let’s take a look at our passage for this morning.

Matthew 2:1-12
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.” 
When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.’” 
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” 
After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
For thousands of years, people have looked at the stars. Some looked for information, some for enjoyment, and some looked to the stars for guidance. Celestial activity has been used to determine planting seasons and mark major religious holidays. The heavenly bodies have also been seen as guides for world events and objects of worship.

The Magi, or Wise Men, were a combination of astrologer and scientist. They studied the heavens to determine seasonal changes, calendar and time, but also looked to the stars for guidance in earthly affairs. They believed heavenly activity foretold and marked major world events, and they offered their insight to the earthly rulers of the Babylonian Empire.

When the star in the East appeared, this was just the sort of event they would have been looking for. These men knew something of great importance was taking place. They packed up their belongings, headed out to find the one who had been born King of the Jews, and in doing so give us one of the best passages on authentic worship we have in the Bible.

The first thing we draw from this passage is...

We worship fully when everyone is welcome...

The Magi were from Babylon-current day Iraq. This was the same area where Israel spent a good bit of their history in captivity. The stories of the Old Testament Prophets, of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego...these are all at the hands of the Babylonians.

Magi were the ones who told the King about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and got them thrown into the fiery furnace. They are also the ones who set Daniel up to be thrown into the lion’s den...and yet here they are...the ones who come searching for Jesus.

In contrast to all the expense and trouble the Magi go through we have Herod and the Jewish leaders. Jesus is their Messiah. The religious leaders know where He is to be born. They live in an age that is expecting His arrival at any moment. And yet they do not even offer to follow along with the Magi. The religious leaders simply ignore the possibility and Herod desires to kill him.

The Bible presents this tension over and over again. The people you would expect to be waiting, eager for the Messiah are the ones who don’t want anything to do with Him. The people who are rejected by “God’s people” and turned away as outsiders are the ones who come flocking to be near Jesus.

It is so easy to do, isn’t it? To think of ourselves better than we are and those people over there as worse? It is easier to see their sin and the reasons why they are not good enough, and so easy to miss our own sin?

People reading Matthew’s Gospel, people very much like you and me, would have been shocked to hear that Magi from Babylon were not only seeking Jesus, but also allowed to worship Him. They would have been shocked at the whole lot...shepherds and Magi and unwed parents...all involved in God’s plan for salvation!?!

In order for us to fully engage in worship, though, we have to be open to anyone who wants to come. We are not able to see the heart. We are not able to determine how far someone has come in their journey to find Jesus. In fact, we have to drop our concerns about those around us and welcome them with love as fellow worshipers.

Everyone is welcome...because God welcomes those who come looking for Him. Matthew understood that often the people we least welcome and want in our presence are the people most wanted by God in His presence.

We worship fully when we come prepared...

Being prepared to worship means understanding how to worship, and the Magi show us three very important worship “actions” that help us understand how to worship...and they are not singing, offering, and a message.

Our passage says, “When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.”

They come with an attitude of rejoicing...they take a posture of worship...They give their very best gifts...

In order for us to fully engage in worship we also must incorporate these 3 worship actions every time we come to worship. We must come with an attitude of rejoicing, we must take on a posture of worship, and we must offer our very best. So let’s look at each of these.

We must come with an attitude of rejoicing. Our passage says, “When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.” That is a very tame interpretation of the original language. If we were to translate it word for word it would say, “They rejoiced exceedingly joyfully greatly great.” There was a lot of excitement. The writer uses two words for joy (one which means rejoicing a lot) and two words for great.

So often joy would not be the word we use to describe our approach to worship. Rushed, distracted, overwhelmed, guilt-ridden...we are angry from the argument with our spouse on the way to church, frustrated at the kids for taking so long, struggling to get everything together so we can get there on time for once, distracted by all the stuff going on in our lives...

How often does joy describe the way you feel about worshipping God? Are we excited to be in God’s presence? Do we really believe that this time we spend together is worshipping God and Do we really expect to sense God’s presence when we get here?

Second, they take a posture of worship. Our passage says, “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.”

The word used to describe their action is the Greek word Proskuneo. It means to fall on the ground in front of someone as a show of honor, respect, and it is the word biblical writers used to describe our posture of worship to God.

In that culture a person bows to demonstrate submission and respect. The lower a person bowed the more respect and honor was meant. When they entered the house these men of great stature fell down on the ground before this child in worship.

To fully engage in worship, you and I must come with this same posture. We can’t come in arrogance, or self-confidence, we come recognizing all God has done and accomplished. How He has cared for us, loved us, and saved us. We enter bowed before the God of heaven—recognizing that He alone is worthy; that is true worship.

If we don’t worship it is not because of the the songs we sing or the style in which we sing them, it is not about how uplifting and engaging my message is, and it is not about whether we have all the latest programs and things for the kids. Because worship is more than just showing is about more than if I am satisfied and fed. Anyone can take part in what we do here on Sunday mornings, but participation does not make it worship.

Worship is about a posture of our heart before God; recognizing that He alone is worthy of our worship.

The final action required for worship is the bringing of gifts. Our passage says, “Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.”

It would have been a horrible insult to come before someone in respect and worship and not bring something. It isn’t because the person needed or wanted what was being given, but it was an outward sign of an inward attitude. When the Magi worshipped, they brought the best their land had to offer: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

When we enter the presence of God to worship we should bring him our best. We do it with our tithes and offerings. We do it by offering him our very lives. Not because God needs it, but because it is an outward sign of God’s inward working. In most religions you give to a god to appease him so you can get something back. But when we give to God, we know He has already given us His best—His Son, Jesus Christ. We give out of gratitude.

Over the next few weeks, what would it look like if we worked to use these 3 actions in your worship...we rejoiced at the thought of worshiping God, we came in a posture of humility and obedience, and we brought a gift of some sort every week to the feet of God.

And this leads us to our final point...

We worship fully when we have the right object of worship...

Everyone worships something. Some worship a sports team, some worship a lifestyle, some worship their jobs, fame, money, possessions. Some worship good things like their families...Some even worship the idea of worship.

There are a lot things people worship. But when we fail to worship something that is truly worthy...we quickly become empty again. This creates a hole that must be continually filled. Our sports team needs another win (against Michigan), we need to make more and more money, we need to constantly protect what we have. We worry that something will happen.

It is like our Thanksgiving meal. On Thursday, I ate more than I have eaten in months...and yet I woke up hungry Friday morning. Who am I kidding, I was hungry a few hours later. In a very similar way, worshipping something that is unworthy of our worship will leave us feeling empty and needing more.

The Magi worshipped at the feet of Jesus. So often we worship things that do not deserve our worship. Most of the time we don’t do it on purpose...we simply drift away to other things. We all worship it worth worshipping? What takes up the majority of your thoughts when you don’t have something you have to think about? When you are standing don’t have to be thinking about anything...what consumes your thoughts...that is most likely the object of your worship.


This morning, as we close, I want to focus on worship...not just singing a closing song. Think about the 3 actions of worship...rejoicing, bowing, and giving...and making the receiver of our worship Jesus.

What would happen to our time together if we began praying and expecting God to show up each week? What if we in spite of all that goes on in our lives we came rejoicing into His presence? What if we bowed humbly before him and made it about Him and not about us? What if we gave our best to Him?

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