When I mention Mona Lisa, The Scream, and Impression, Sunrise, what comes to mind? If you thought, “They’re all famous paintings,” you’re correct. They actually have a couple of other things in common. The first is that they’re all considered to be tremendously valuable. The second thing is that the originals were all at some point stolen.
Mona Lisa was painted by Leonardo da Vinci in the sixteenth century. In 1911, a museum worker walked out the Louvre with the Mona Lisaunder a smock. He later expressed that he thought the masterpiece belonged in Italy instead of France. Two years later, the thief was caught trying to sell the painting. The Screamby Edvard Munch was painted in the early 1900s. In 2004, The Screamwas ripped off a museum wall by armed robbers. Fortunately, it was recovered and restored. Impression, Sunrisewas painted by Claude Monet in the late 1800s. In 1985, armed robbers stormed the Marmottan Museum in Paris and took the painting. It was recovered by French police five years later.
As we are closing in on Christmas, I want to remind you of what an amazing and precious treasure the first Christmas brought. As our planning, preparation, and commitments reached a fevered pitch in these last few days before the holiday, I don’t want the real treasure of Christmas to be stolen out from under you.
So with Christmas nearly upon us, I want to help you preserve and protect the real treasure and meaning of the holiday by looking at the account of the wise men. In Matthew 2 we see three very different responses to the valuable gift of Christmas. King Herod, the religious leaders, and the wise men all take a different approach to the events of Jesus’s birth. The meaning and the power of the event are lost and stolen for Herod and the Pharisees. But the wise men’s approach of worship is the proper response to what God did that night.
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel. Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also. When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way. And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son. Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men. (Matthew 2:1-16)
The Wise Men – Worship
The most amazing thing about the Magi is that in this short account in Matthew, these non-Jewish foreigners with questionable religious practices who were gazing at the stars were the only ones who responded appropriately to Jesus’s birth. It serves as a stark reminder for those of us who are in the church and consider ourselves to be followers of Jesus. Are we, like the wise men, focusing on our worship, adoration, and gifts for the King? Or are we so familiar with the story that our wonder has been lost or stolen?
The Religious – Indifference
After encountering the wise men, Herod called the Jewish religious leaders together and asked them where the Messiah was to be born. They shared the answer by quoting the prophet Micah, who pointed to Bethlehem about seven hundred years before Jesus was born there. But we never hear another thing about them again. They don’t investigate; they don’t search Him out. They just say, “He’s probably over that way somewhere.”
Imagine that you’re the president of the Justin Bieber fan club in our city and he sends you an email that He’s going to do a free concert in your city and he wants to know where to stay. As his biggest fan in the world, you tell him to stay at the Carlton Lodge. Then you get back to work, get back to your business as usual, and forget it. We all know that if the real president received that email, she would be there waiting for him to arrive with hundreds of screaming friends with her.
The religious leaders know a lot about Jesus. But it seems like they didn’t really care about the Him. Don’t be like them.
Herod – Hate
King Herod heard that the wise men had come to worship the One who had been born King of the Jews and he was disturbed. Herod was paranoid and power hungry. History tells us that he killed his own two sons because he was jealous of and threatened by their power. True to form, Herod pretended that he wanted to worship Jesus, but we see later in the chapter that his plan was to try to kill the Him.
Herod’s response to Christmas is an extreme example of self-preservation—the exact opposite of the worship of the wise men. Herod treats the news of Christmas in the same way he responds to any threats of his power—he tries to eliminate it. He even fakes interest in worship so that he can maneuver for the upper hand.
While few of us would actively fight against the Jesus, there is a little Herod in most of us. It’s the part of us that takes from the glory of Jesus in this season by putting our traditions above our worship. Whenever we demand that things go our way in the holiday above what God is doing or what others need, we make the same mistake Herod made the first Christmas.
As we consider our preparation and response to the wonder of Christmas, let’s consider the example of the wise men. When they saw the child with his mother, they bowed down, worshipped him and presented Him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. We know little else about the wise men. But we do know that in light of what God had done, their response is the only one that makes sense.
If you want to guard the meaning and wonder of Christmas, I suggest that you start with worship. There is nothing that centers our hearts and minds on what really matters like worship. We don’t worship God because He needs it. We worship God because weare need it. Giving Him the praise He’s due reminds us of who He really is. Our worship brings us back to the grace and the greatness of God. When we worship, we experience a deeper connection with God and fall deeper in love with Him.
The wise men worshipped the King. It was not because they were supposed to or because He required it, but because their hearts demanded it of them. As Christmas nears, let’s seek Jesus and give Him the worship and praise He rightly deserves.