Two Ways to Deal with Jesus

Learning Worship from the Wise Men

Orchestra Hall | Minneapolis

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, 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.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: ‘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.’”

Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 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.” 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. 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. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way. (Matthew 2:1–12)

There are two ways to deal with Jesus Christ. I am thinking specifically of those of you here tonight who do not yet worship Jesus as the greatest treasure of your life.

Herod and the Wise Men

There are two ways to deal with Jesus: the way of Herod, and the way of the wise men. The way of Herod is to get rid of Jesus. It was pure hypocrisy when Herod said he wanted to go worship the child. He did not intend to worship him. He intended to get rid of him. And in a matter of days, he would kill every baby boy in Bethlehem under two years old to get rid of Jesus. He failed. Herod’s way always fails.

Of course, nowadays it’s too late to kill Jesus. He has risen from the dead and he is alive, this very night, reigning in heaven. He will come back someday as King of kings. But we can, with less violent and more sophisticated ways, try to get rid of him, evade him, follow the Herod way.

We usually get rid of him by recreating him in our minds in ways that strip him of his claim on our lives: he’s a mere legend, or a moral teacher like other gurus, or just another prophet, or a mere symbol of hope. When I was in graduate school in Germany in the 1970s, a very popular book was Jesus for Atheists. Lo and behold, Milan Machoveč discovered that Jesus is, after all, a perfect embodiment of twentieth-century Marxism.

For two thousand years, people have been trying to get rid of the real Jesus by reinventing him in their own ideological image. But the Herod way of dealing with Jesus has never worked and will never work. You cannot get rid of Jesus. And I plead with you tonight: Don’t live your life trying to evade Jesus.

“You cannot get rid of Jesus. And I plead with you: Don’t live your life trying to evade Jesus.”

Instead, deal with Jesus the way the wise men did. “Going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him” (Matthew 2:11). Falling down signifies submission, and worship signifies treasuring. Submission to Jesus as your supreme King. Worshiping Jesus as your supreme Treasure. This is a huge change for all of us. Nobody is born this way. Jesus calls it new birth (John 3:3–8).

News to Make the Angels Sing

When this change happens to us, by God’s grace, we become the beneficiaries of God’s Christmas purpose. A few chapters later, Jesus tells us why he came — why there’s a Christmas: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). That’s the best news in all the world, for two reasons.

First, every one of us in this room tonight is under the guilt and bondage of our sinfulness toward God. We deserve judgment, and we know it. It is a debt we can never pay. And Jesus, God in human flesh, says, “I have come to pay it. I give my life to pay this ransom.”

Second, when we experience this forgiveness and freedom through the death of Jesus, we discover that for the rest of our lives, and for the rest of eternity, Jesus works for us. Omnipotence works for us. “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve” — meaning, through all our pleasures and all our pain, Jesus is working to bring us to everlasting happiness in the presence of the all-satisfying God.

This is the good news of great joy that made the angels sing. It’s yours tonight, if you renounce the way of Herod and embrace the way of the wise men: they fell down and worshiped.

The song that we are about to hear, “In the Bleak Midwinter,” will end on a note that will be a perfect moment in the pilgrimage of your life to do what the wise men did: to say to Jesus, “My heart is not my own. It’s yours. I worship you, my King, my Treasure.”