As I've evaluated my love for the Lord, my worship, and my devotions over the past year, I've used a couple of different measurement tools to see how I have been doing. Probably the most convicting questions come from Dewell's book, Measure Your Life. After having used that book several times as an evaluation tool, I can still see numerous areas in which my love and worship for the Lord can grow. I think I scored pretty high on loving God with acts of service and loving God with my mind, but quality time? Yikes. I scored somewhat low. And in one sense it is not surprising as that has always been my weakest language of love with humans as well.
So as a part of my goals for the new year I want grow in concrete ways of seeking God's face; not just studying about seeking His face, but seeking His face. And this morning I will share with you a few thoughts that the Lord has laid on my heart from Matthew 2. I've grouped these action points under two headings: 1) Seek Christ without excuses. 2) And seek Christ with the whole heart. Obviously I pray every day and worship every day, but Scripture calls us to grow. And how many of us can say that we love Him with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind - emphasis on the word "all." So this morning, I am going to use the Wise Men in Matthew 2 as an example of How To Seek Christ With All Of Our Heart. And may all of us grow as a result of being challenged from this chapter.
Seek Christ without excuses
And we'll start by evaporating our excuses. There were at least five excuses that these wise men could have used if they wanted to. Let's go through them:
Distance and inconvenience were not used as an excuse (vv. 1-2)
The first thing that we see is that the wise men did not use the excuse of distance and inconvenience. Look at verses 1-2:
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 have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.'
What were some of the invconveniences that they had to overcome in order to be able to worship Him? Well, they had a long trip. Given the Iranian origin of their name, Magoi (which is the plural - and I'll just use the Englishified version of Magi) and Magus (which is the singular), it is likely that they came all the way from the ciy of Babylon. Modern tourist sites say that if traveling conditions are ideal, it would take about 54 hours to travel by car on modern roads. But they didn't have cars and they didn't have modern roads. So even if they had camels, it would have taken them more than 20 days to travel to Jerusalem. If you ask me, that is an inconvenient trip. Yet their passion to worship Jesus took that excuse away.
A second inconvenince was the risks involved in traveling between countries. The Roman empire had made things a little bit more safe from robbers, but there were still risks that needed to be anticipated.
A third inconvenience was that they were from a totally different country - and probably a different language group. It’s possible that they were even a different race than this king of the Jews - though I tend to think that they may have been Babylonian Jews.
Fourth, they probably had important posts that they had to ask temporary leave from. Magi served kings as advisors. They are clearly distinguished from astrologers and diviners in the book of Daniel (see LXX of Dan. 1:20; 2:2,10,27; 4:4; 5:7,11,15). The magi were the wise men who had special training as counselors to the king or other civil magistrates. Daniel and his three friends were called magi. Acts 8 speaks of Simon who was a magus advisor. Acts 13 speaks of Elymas the magus who influenced Sergius Paulus the proconsul. Magi could be good or bad, depending upon whether their wisdom was Biblical or demonic. And I believe they were either converted believers or Jewish believers who served the Lord in either Babylon, Media, or a neighboring country. The bottom line is, it would take some special arrangements for a king’s magi to get a few weeks off to visit the newborn king of the Jews. These men had to overcome several inconveniences.
Compared to them, the inconveniences that keep us from spending time with the Lord seem like lousy excuses. As I was preparing for this sermon, I asked myself, what inconveniences have kept me from having full-hearted private devotions. Usually I plan ahead for these things to some degree, but I was convicted that I don't plan enough. And music is one area that I have been stretching myself in the last few weeks. It was a result of being invited to Josh and Angela's house for supper, and I was blessed by how rich their video streaming of worship music during the family devotions was. It inspired me to do the same in my private devotions. Technology, planning, kneeling, are all things that can be used to improve our worship. It is inconvenient to figure out ahead of time what music would be meaningful, but since music draws my heart out in the very areas that I am weak in, I cannot allow inconvenience to be an excuse for not improving my quality time with God - particularly the emotional and the relational side of worship. So I have been gathering worship music for my private devotions. I’m looking for a Christian streaming service, but currently I am using Spotify.
You will see that at least parts of this sermon are confession time. But hopefully all of us can be stirred up to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind.
Uncertainty was not used as an excuse (v. 2)
A second excuse that they could have made was, “We don’t know where we are going or what we are doing. We don’t know what the next day or the next month will hold.” These men had numerous uncertainties. Look at verse 2. Verse 2 says that the Magi came to Jerusalem asking “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?" God had revealed to them what this special star meant (“we have seen His star”), but God hadn’t told them everything. They didn’t know the where, the when, the why and the how.
Those who like to feel in control always want to know all the details and then more. And even when they on occasion get all the details, they are fearful to act because these is still some uncertainty. But the fact of the matter is that God doesn’t always give us certainty about our circumstances, and doesn’t always give us all the information we would like. We would feel so much more comfortable if we could always walk by sight rather than walking by faith. But these magi, like Abraham, followed the Lord’s guidance with just the information that they needed at that point in their lives. They were walking by faith, not being deflected by uncertainty.
Obviously we could apply this excuse of uncertainty to many areas of life in which we fail to walk by faith. But I have been trying to apply this passage to how fully I seek God. Does uncertainty factor in? Maybe you stumble over not knowing the meaning of certain passages you are reading and so you start studying the meaning. But before you know it, the devotions has turned from a time of relationship with God to a time of study. There is nothing wrong with studying, but there is also nothing wrong with postponing that study and turning the uncertainty about the text into another opportunity to worship God and to adore Him that we will never get to the bottom of His infinite wisdom. "Thank you Lord that you are a God who is far beyond our comprehension. I look forward to studying this text in the future, and a I’ll make a quick note on my to dos for the future, but right now I worship your vast riches of Your word that I will never exhaust." I am trying to not let the academic side of me crowd out the relational side.
Another area of uncertainty that distracts me in worship is a bad memory. I start praying for a family and forget one of the family's member's name. And my mind is stalled while I am trying to think of his name. And believe it or - this may show the Far Side part of my humor, I imagine Rodney smiling at me and not giving me the name. It eventually comes to me and I move on. But what I have started doing is carrying lists of the names of people I am praying for. Or when I'm praying at my desk, I just pull my directory out and read it. But uncertainty can sometimes get in the way of meaningful reach of the heart to God.
Your uncertainties might be different. They might be not knowing what to say in prayer, or what others will think of you if you raise your hands, or uncertainty about how many times it is appropriate to ask God for a request before He will consider it nagging. I can assure you that God encourages us to repeat our prayers. He says in Isaiah to give Him no rest until He fulfills His promises - becasue we are just asking Him for what He wants anyway. In any case, if you have uncertainties about how to pray, I have a booklet that can teach you how to do twelve types of prayer, and even has words written out for each of those sections - except for one - the section where you are listening and not talking. But the point is, don't let uncertainty hinder the degree to which you seek Christ with all your heart. Try to resolve as many of your uncertainties as you can by planning and getting resources ahead of time.
Other people's lack of enthusiasm was not used as an excuse (vv. 3-6)
A third excuse for failing to be as passionate in your worship as you might otherwise have been is that no one else is that passionate. You look around and think, "Oh, boy. I better cool it or everyone will think I'm wierd. Nobody else is raising their hands. Nobody else is crying." Just as Jesus could do not mighty works in his hometown because of their unbelief, it is easy to have our enthusiam dampened by the wet blanket of everyone else's worship. Observing the status quo can dampen our own joy and take away our own energy.
But I have learned that it doesn’t need to dampen our enthusiasm. These magi are examples on this point too. They sought Christ even when others did not share their enthusiasm. Look at verses 3-6: "When Herod the king heard these things, he was troubled and all Jerusalem with him." They are not excited that the Messiah has come. Instead, they are troubled. Herod was troubled over the birth of Christ because it threatened His power. People were troubled because they knew that Herod hated anyone who changed the status quo.
Look also at how seriously Herod takes Christ’s threat. "And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born." Notice that Herod believes the Bible to be true, he takes it very seriously, but He doesn’t want to submit to the Bible and he certainly does not worship Jesus. Have you ever wondered about that? How can people oppose God even when they know the truth? Well, Calvinism says it is because men are totally depraved. Was the difference that the wise men had some good in them and Herod had none? No. Romans 3 says, "there is none righteous, no not one." Was Herod unsaved because he didn’t seek Christ. No. Romans 3 says, "there is none who seeks after God." The only reason these wise men sought after Christ with believing hearts was because God had regenerated their hearts and given them faith, and He had not so done to Herod. Our salvation is all of grace. There is nothing we earn or deserve.
Notice too that the scribes and Pharisees know exactly where Christ is going to be born. Verse 5:
So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you shall come a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel.”’
That’s kind of scary isn’t it? People can know and believe the Scripture, but either oppose it, or in the case of these religious leaders, ignore it. And when a society is filled with such people, it is easy for Christians to lose their enthusiasm as well. The wise men kept their focus on God, not on what the religious leaders, or Herod or the people in Jerusalem were doing. If you are too concerned about what others are doing or saying or thinking it can be a hindrance to a single-eyed pursuit of Jesus. But when your focus is on what God thinks, you will pursue Christ without any reservations. So, be enthusiastic in your pursuit of God even if others think that you are extreme. Let the Bible decide that question.
And believe it or not, this was an area I struggled in the past. In years past, I didn't raise my hands in worship even though the Bible commands it because I was nervous about what others might think of me. They might misinterpret my motives. I didn't say an audible Amen, even though numerous Scriptures call all God's people to do so. I didn't kneel in public, even though I did in private, because I was worried that others would judge me. The bottom line was that in the past, the lack of enthusiasm from others rubbed off on me. I think I have gotten beyond that for the most part, but this fear of man is always something that I need to evaluate to make sure that it doesn't hinder my worship. And I would encourage you to not let it hinder your worship.
The presence of numerous hypocrites wasn't used as an excuse (vv. 7-8)
A fourth excuse is being surrounded by hypocrties. This past week I read a bunch of posts on Facebook by Christian friends who no longer attend church because the church has failed them and church is full of hypocrites and the church isn't salt and light. That could have dampened the enthusiasm of these wise men too. Jerusalem was full of hypocrites. Every church will have at least one or two – hypocrites who profess faith in Christ. Verses 7-8 say,
Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search diligently for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.”
Herod professed to be a worshipper of the true God, but in His heart he was not. He was a hypocrite. I don’t know how many times I have heard unbelievers excuse their careless attitudes with the remark, “The church is filled with hypocrites.” I don’t know how they would know that, seeing as some of these people have never attended a church. It’s just an excuse. But even if the accusation was true, and the church was full of hypocrites, the hypocrisy of others does not remove our own responsibility. Remember the church of Laodicea? Jesus was so offended with that church that he had left the church and was outside knocking on the church door. And I think it is cool that He promised to anyone in that church of hypocrites, "If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me." Any individual can have the most spectacular fellowship with Christ in this church even if others are not.
The presence of danger was not used as an excuse (vv. 3,12)
The last excuse that these wise men could have made was that their quest was dangerous. If they were good at reading body language, they could have seen that Herod was not enthused in verse 3. In verse 12 it was apparent that their lives may have been in danger. But these magi sought the Mesiah despite the danger. Are you willing to face danger in order to worship Christ? That was their stated goal, right? The danger for us may be contracting COVID-19. Or it might be getting a ticket and getting fined for meeting without permission. Or the danger might simply be loss of sleep if we get up early enough to have personal devotions.
So those were the potential excuses that these wise men avoided. There are a lot more excuses that we may need to avoid - a lot more. The question I have posed for myself and that I pose for you is this - in our pursuit of Christ, are we characterized by excuse making or solutions? Neither approach ignores the problems and inconveniences, but excuse making lacks faith and solution finding exhibits faith.
Seek Christ with the whole heart
Second, these wise men also illustrate seeking Christ with the whole heart. This is a repeated command in Scripture. Deuteronomy 4:29 says, “you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul.” He’s not talking to unbelievers there. Unbelievers cannot seek Him. He is talking to His own people. Here’s another promise: Deuteronomy 28:9 says, “If you seek Him, He will be found by you.” Jeremiah 29:12 says, “And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.” Let's look at seven ways that these magi model to us this issue of seeking God with the whole heart.
They shared their enthusiasm with others (vv. 2,7)
First, they didn’t keep their enthusiasm to themselves. They shared their enthusiasm about seeking Him with others. In verses 2 and 7 we see that the wise men weren’t ashamed to inquire at the palace and to tell them that they want to worship. In fact, they might have assumed that the whole palace entourage would want to worship. When you are enamored with our glorious Lord, you are astonished that others don't have a similar passion. When you first came to Christ you probably overflowed with your enthusiasm. How does that get dampened? Well, there could be any number of reasons. Constantly seeing others who put you in your place can dampen your enthusaism. The fear of man can easily make us shut our mouths. Even King David was tempted to be ashamed of speaking God's laws before kings (knowing that they wouldn't apprvoe), but he determined not to be. He said, "I will speak of Your testimonies also before kings, and will not be ashamed." Jesus said, “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:38).
I'm glad to see the enthusiasm many of you have for Christ on Facebook and other forums. What about the area of quality time with God? Does the reality of meeting with God make you want to speak about it to others? We probably ought to have a testimony time in this church since testimonies of God's supernatural in our lives week by week can help to stir each other up as Hebrews says. David said,
"I will praise You, O LORD, with my whole heart; I will tell of all Your marvelous works." (Ps. 9:1)
One of the indicators that these wise men had hearts on fire for seeking Christ is that Christ was uppermost in their speech. They spoke about him to others.
They had diligence in their seeking (vv. 8 with 1-2)
The second thing that I see is that they were diligent in seeking Him. Verse 8 says, "Go and search diligently for the young Child." Of course, they had already been doing so. They had gotten information from God and from the star, had traveled, inquired, and searched for information that would help them. They didn't only do what came spontaneously. They put work into their seeking.
While diligence in devotions is not the full answer, it certainly doesn't hurt to be diligent with our time, thought, research, and effort. Putting some diligence into devotions and worship can help to improve both for our families.
The English novelist J. B. Priestly was once asked why some of the gifted writers who had grown up with him had not matured in their art like he had. They had the same skills. His answer was very interesting. He said,
Gentlemen, the difference between us was not in ability, but in the fact that they merely toyed with the fascinating idea of writing, I cared like blazes! It is this caring like the blazes that counts.
How much do we care to know Christ and be drawn into a closer walk with Him? You can say, “I don’t have time.” But you always have time to do what you consider to be the most important or what you want to do. If we have the enthusiasm of these wise men, there is no one here who cannot achieve great things spiritually. Theodore Roosevelt said, “I am only an average man, but I work harder at it than the average man.” Make it your goal to work at worship harder than the average Christian; to be enthusiastic and diligent in your search for Christ.
They expressed joy in the insights that God gave (vv. 2,10)
Another indication of the enthusiasm with which these wise men sought Christ is their great joy. Verse 10 says, "When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy." I get the impression that rejoicing with exceedingly great joy is a lot of joy. Do you find joy in your worship? If we are too academic in our praises of God it may not tanslate into joy. But if we adore God's greatness in relationship to us - as unworthy recipients, it gives cause for joy. For example, I f we worship God for His wisdom as being sufficient for our lack of wisdom; His presence as the answer to our fears; His power as the answer to our needs, it begins to take on the dimensions of a relationship and not simply a study. There is nothing like the realization that God is real, and that He is actively working in your life to give you a sense of joy and enthusiasm.
Of course, I will hasten to say that life is not so perfect, and even when you know for a certainty that God is real and actively working, we can lose our joy. Elijah had a Mt Carmel experience immediately followed by a deep depression and loss of joy. People can bounce back and forth. Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones speaks of this mysterious loss of joy in his amazing book, Spiritual Depression: It’s Causes and It’s Cures. Some of the things he covered are profound and others are simple. For example, failing to get enough sleep can impact our joy. Guilt can certaily do so. Demonic oppression and even stress can do so. And as John Piper pointed out, there are times where we need to fight for joy. David preached himself into joy in Psalm 42 and 43. He said,
Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him.
He argued with himself that he had every reason for joy and worship. Joylessness was not acceptable to him. Especially when I have had many days of sleep loss, I have to do things differently to maintain an attitude of joy in worship. If my mind drifts while on my knees, I will stand up, pace back and forth, and speak out loud in my praises. The confessions of your mouth put demons to flight and realign our thinking in a powerful way. And sometimes you have to get angry with yourself and say, “No. I will rejoice.” Those declarations are steps of faith that God honors. But joyless worship should be an oxymoron for a healthy Christian. And that means I have been unhealthy many times and have had to adjust my attitudes. We never stay static, which means that we must always work on this issue of worship.
Stepping into action by faith (vv. 2,9a)
Another thought I see in this passage is that great things don’t happen until we step out in faithfulness to the Lord. You may not feel like worship becasue you feel dry. But as you step into worship by faith you many times find God coming through with showers of blessing. The Jordan didn’t part till the Israelites started to cross. The beggar wasn’t healed until he asked. The man with the withered arm didn't get healed until in obedience to Jesus he attempted the impossible - he stretched forth that withered arm. There are times we don't receive joy until we determine to enter into joy through our praises.
Well, in the same way, these men didn’t see God’s supernatural star again until they set out on their journey in the beginning of verse 9. They set out before the saw the star, and then God met them. And I guess the point of the passage is that they didn’t need the star until they set out on their journey again. Inaction leads to stagnation. If you would have joy, you must do as the wise men did and proceed with your marching orders. And almost always, it is as we step out in faith that God supernaturally meets us and fills our hearts with joy as He did theirs. This means that there is a connection between serving God before worship and serving God in worship.
They gave Christ their best (v. 11)
Fifth, their enthusiasm could also be measured by the sacrificial nature of their gifts. Each gift was costly. Gift giving is a very important part of Christmas. Unfortunately, we are often wrapped up in gift getting. But the principle shown in these three costly gifts is that Christ deserves our best. We don’t just donate the broken furniture and unwanted sweaters to the Lord. Certainly they can be used by the Lord. But are there times when we give God what we value the most? Can Jesus see the expensive alabaster box opened up and poured on His feet? How extravagant are we in our pursuit of God? Or do you give God only your second best?
They completely trusted God's Word (vv. 2,5-6,12)
The sixth thing that I see in this passage is the complete and unreserved trust in God’s Word that these magi had. We don’t have recorded what revelation they had received in Babylon, but they trusted it.
And I should point out that they weren’t getting revelation by reading horoscopes as some people suppose. The idea that these men were astrologers who understood the meaning of a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn is sheer nonsense. A conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn doesn't point to a specific house. This was a theophany that was close enough to the ground and that they could follow it and close enough that it could stand over the house where Jesus was. And it was coupled with prophetic insight from the Lord as to the significance of this manifestation. The only certainty we can have in life today is God’s inspired revelation - which has now been preserved for us in the Bible. But when we have that word, nothing should be able to shake us. Learning how to personalize the Word of God and live in terms of it is a foundation for a relational Christianity with God. And Gary has given many of you the book Praying the Scriptures. Projects like that help you to personalize the Scriptures in a way that meets with God.
They desired to worship Christ (vv. 2,11)
But I want to end with the last good mark of their hearts - their obvious desire to worship. They tell everyone in verse 2 that their goal was to worship the Christ. In verse 11 they actually do so.
And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Worship is the goal of our lives. The Bible only speaks of one thing that the Father seeks - worshipers. It doesn't say He seeks worship, since Acts says that He doesn't need worship, but He seeks worshipers. He wants you; He wants your heart. John 4:23 says,
But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.
God loves it when He has your heart. If you have little or no desire for worship, it displays what kind of a relationship you have with God. Ask God to give you a new heart that is enthusiastic for Him. Enthusiastic enough to worship fully and freely even when everyone else is dead as a stone. Enthusiastic to not care what others think of you, but to give yourself in extravagance to Him. If John Wesley were alive today, I probably wouldn't go to him for instruction on theology. He was messed up there. But he could have taught me a thing or two about deep diving into the ocean of prayer, and walking with God as Enoch did, and developing a deep relationship with God. John Wesley said,
...right tempers [dispositions] cannot subsist without right opinion: The love of God, for instance, cannot subsist without a right opinion of him.” ...[However,] Though right tempers [dispositions] cannot subsist without right opinion, yet right opinion may subsist without right tempers [dispositions].1
In other words, we are called to be theologically orthodox, and you can't have good practice without good theology. But he says you can have good theology without having a good relationship with God. As another book worded it, we can be fantastic "data-based-Christians," but do we have true fellowship with the God that we know? God calls us to seek Him, fellowship with Him, worship Him, love Him. If you want to discover a whole new dimension of Christianity, follow Paul's call to know Christ and the power of His resurrection. Follow Paul's call to enter into the fellowship that Jesus had and continues to have with the Father. That's astounding! We have been called into the same fellowship that the Father and the Son have with each other throughout eternity. And that is enabled by the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. It is through the Holy Spirit that you can have the reach of the heart to God. May each one of us aspire to grow in that in this coming year. Amen.
John Wesley, The Works of John Wesley, Third Edition, vol. 10 (London: Wesleyan Methodist Book Room, 1872), 348. ↩