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If you’re going to ask St. Matthew to bring you to the Christ, as we have done this morning by reading from his gospel, then you better be prepared, not to just observe the Christ or learn something about the Christ, but to worship the Christ.
Chronologically speaking, the first to meet the Christ child are the shepherds. Luke records their story. Luke tells us that the shepherds found the baby just as the angels said, and that they ran and told everyone what had happened, but we never read that they ‘worshiped’ Him.
Chronologically speaking, the next to meet Jesus are the Magi from the East. Matthew records their story. And from the beginning to the end of their story, it’s all about worshiping the Christ. “Where is he who is born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” “And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him.”
It is interesting that Sts. Matthew, Mark and Luke all record the account of the leper who comes to Jesus saying, “Lord if you will, you can make me clean.” But only St. Matthew tells us that the man ‘knelt before Him’ when he made his request.
Matthew, Mark and Luke record the episode of the ruler who came to Jesus imploring His help for his dying daughter. But only Matthew tells us that the ruler ‘knelt before Him,” when he made his request.
Matthew, Mark and John each record the accounts of Jesus walking on the stormy sea. But only St. Matthew tells us that after the sea grew calm and Jesus was in the boat with that they all “worshiped” Him.
Same holds true for the accounts of the Canaanite woman who pleads for her daughter (Mat. 15:25); the mother of the sons of Zebedee who pleads for her two sons (Mt. 20:20); and the account of the Resurrection. Only Matthew tells us that they ‘worshiped’ Jesus.
There is one more place where Matthew directs our attention to those who worship the Christ, but we’ll come back to that at the end.
The point is, if you’re going to ask Matthew to take you to Jesus, you better be prepared to worship. That’s what he is leading us to Jesus to do.
The word that Matthew uses for worship is “proskuneo.” From “proskuneo” comes our word, “to prostrate.” It means get down on your knees, to fall you your face before someone and kiss his feet, or the hem of his garment, or even the ground that he walks on. “Proskuneo” is about submitting yourself to the authority of the one whom you ‘prostrate’ yourself to. You put yourself at his feet.
“Proskuneo” is not a uniquely biblical word. In many places it was expected that whenever anyone, citizen or foreigner came into the royal court of a king, they were expected to fall to their knees before him. It was a sign that they submitted to his authority over them. They ‘worshiped’ him.
Everyone worships. God made man to be a worshiping creature. It’s one of the things that distinguishes man from the animals. God made man to bend his knee to Him, to bow down to Him, to submit to His authority over him.
After the great fall into sin, man did not loose his God-given nature to worship. But sin corrupted that nature, so that now man worships what is not God. He bends the knee, he bows down to, he submits to the authority of what is not God. And that’s only half the problem. The other half being that he refuses to bend the knee, bow down to, submit to the authority of God.
Everyone worships. The question is, what do we worship? Luther was exactly right when he said that we worship what we “fear, love and trust above all things.” The question is, what do we “fear, love and trust above all things?”
What do we submit to because we’re afraid of what will happen to us if we don’t submit to its demands; we fear it above all other fears? What do we bend the knee to because it is precious to us and we love it; love it above all other loves? What do we worship because we trust what it promises to do for us; trust it more than we trust anything else?
What do we “fear, love and trust above all things?” That is what we worship. Is it the almighty dollar? Is it a certain standard of living? Is it your reputation among others, peers at school or at work? Is it the economy? Is it you? Is it the one, true God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit?
There is an important distinction to be made between the inner worship of our heart, what we ‘fear love and trust above all things,” and the outward act that we call ‘worship.’ Another sad consequence of the great fall into sin is that the outward form of our worship is not necessarily a true picture of the worship of our heart.
Although the outward act may bear all of the appearances of ‘fear, love and trust in God,’ it is also very possible that it’s all just a show. St. Matthew quotes Jesus who quote Isaiah, “This people honors me with their lips but their hearts are far from me.” (Matt.15:8).
King Herod sent the Magi 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.” Herod did not want to fall down at the feet of Jesus but to murder Him.
The word that the bible uses for those whose outward act of worship is contrary to the ‘fear, love and trust in God above all things’, is ‘hypocrite.’ Literally, the word means, ‘actor.’ Our pews are full of them and so is this pulpit. And we dare not kid ourselves, Jesus sees right through it. And that alone should lead all of us to fall down on our knees and submit Jesus who alone has the authority to forgive sins.
One more point needs to be made here. It is true that the outward act of worship is not the same thing as the worship of the heart. They are two different things. But that is not to say that they can be separated from each other. For centuries the Church has understood that the outward act of worship has a powerful effect on the worship of the heart.
Way back in the 5th century, a monk who was a disciple of Augustine by the name of Prosper of Aquitaine summarized the connection between the outward and inner worship like this, in Latin, “Lex orandi, Lex credendi.” “The law of worship founds the law of believing.” In other words, the outward form of worship has a powerful effect on the belief of the heart.
• If the outward form of worship is focused on you and your feelings and emotions, then that will, over time, have a powerful effect on the faith and trust of your heart. It will teach you to fear, love and trust in your feelings and emotions.
• If the outward form of worship emphasizes your works and acts of penance and charity, it will, over time, effect the faith of your heart and you will learn to fear, love and trust in your good works above all things.
• If the outward form of worship focuses upon Christ and His gifts of forgiveness, life and salvation given by grace alone and received through faith alone, that will have a powerful effect on the faith of your heart and you will learn to fear, love and trust in Christ above all things.
Do not fall for that little lie that is being widely circulated these days that it doesn’t matter where you worship as long as you worship somewhere.
The Magi came from far away to find the “king of the Jews” so that they might worship Him. They looked for Him in the capitol city, at the royal palace seated on a royal throne. Where else would you expect to find a king? If, in your search for the King you follow the stars, that’s about as close as you’re ever going to get.
It took the inspired, infallible Scriptures to point them to what they were seeking. The prophet Micah had written, “And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah… from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.”
So, off to Bethlehem they go and there they find what they were seeking, the “king of the Jews,” in a little village, in a borrowed home, infant small, totally dependant, no kingdom and no authority, at least none that they could see, like they could see that star in the sky. Who could have known?
Who could have known that this infant lying in a manger was worshiping the Father in pure and holy worship? He bent His knee and came down to earth in perfect submission to the will of His Father.
Who could have known that that man hanging from a cross was the One that the Magi were searching for, the king of the Jews, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, expect the Scriptures told you so. “And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, King of the Jews.” (Mat.27:37)
Who could have known that hanging from the cross, Jesus is worshiping the Father, bending His knee, His face is to the ground, perfectly, completely, submitting to the authority of God, because you will not. His perfect obedience to the Father is the only pure and holy act of worship there has ever been. The outward actions of His worship are in perfect harmony with the worship of His heart.
His perfect worship is for you. It is the perfect and complete substitute for our sinful and hypocritical worship. He presents the precious gifts His body and His blood, to the Father on your behalf. The Father receives the precious and holy gifts of His Son’s perfect and holy worship and with Him He is well-pleased.
And then He offers the same precious gifts to you. And when we receive those same precious and holy gifts of His body and blood, we are joined to His perfect and holy worship of the Father and the Father is well-pleased with us for the sake of His Son.
At the beginning of his gospel, St. Matthew tells us that Magi from far away come to worship the King of the Jews. At the very end of his gospel, the scene is of 11 men gathered around Jesus who was crucified and raised from the dead. Matthew writes, “And when they saw Him they worshiped Him…” “proskuneo.” They are prostrate before Him.
“All authority has been given to Me,” says the King. And with that truth plainly revealed for all to see, more clearly than any star in the sky, Jesus sends His own Magi, His apostles, out to “all nations to make disciples,” men and women, boys and girls from every corner of the globe, every little village, every tribe and nation, that they may ‘fear, love and trust in God above all things.’
The prophet Isaiah saw the outcome of the Great Commission long before Jesus issued it. “Lift up your eyes all around and see; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from afar, and your daughters shall be carried on the hip.” (Is. 60:4).
St. Paul takes Jesus’ ‘Great Commission’ to its ultimate and inevitable conclusion. Writing to the Philippians, Paul sees the day when, “at the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth…” (Phil.2:10).
Jesus tells the Samaritan woman at the well, “The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23).
“Oh come, let us worship the Lord.”