Once there was a man who came to see the well-known Pastor Charles Spurgeon. He asked him if his church was a pure church. The man said that he wanted to find a pure church to belong to. Spurgeon replied that he didn’t know about his own church. He did know that there were many good people in it, sincere Christian people, but there might possibly be a Judas among them, as there was in the company of Jesus’ disciples. Yes, there could possibly be some deceivers and idolaters as there were in the churches of Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, and all the others in New Testament times. On the whole he thought that his church was not the one this man was looking for. In fact, he didn’t know that there had been such a church in all of history. Pastor Spurgeon then said, “But if you should happen to find such a church, I beg of you not to join it, for you would spoil the whole thing”*
The Church is a strange entity. In our creed we state that we believe in the holy catholic church, or the holy Christian church. But what makes it up? What kinds of people exist within the Church? We might like to think we have the perfect or pure church, but that thinking would be naïve at the least. If someone were seeking the pure church, the one where Christ is found, would they come here? If there were some wise men looking for Christ, would they come here?
The Wise Men of our text are said to have travelled a long way to see the Christ Child. Once they arrived, the Bible says, “And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshipped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. ” (Matt 2:11)
Note that the text says that they went into a house. Now we normally think the Wise Men came on the same night as the shepherds – after all, the wise men are often part of our Nativity scenes – but this is not so. They came quite some time after Mary had given birth to Jesus. It’s quite possible Joseph had probably secured a house for the family by this time.
So, the Wise Men walked into the house and saw the Christ Child. Now, they could have just peeked in through the window and then said, “We’ve seen the Christ Child” and then went on their way, but they didn’t do that. We are told they fell down before the Christ Child.
Remember that these were men who were probably often in the presence of the king of Babylon or Persia or one of the other lands of the East. They were probably important, intelligent, and wealthy. How could they now come to the lowly town of Bethlehem and bow down before a child? This house wasn’t a palace and it wasn’t in the beautiful royal city of Jerusalem. Yet here in a humble house was the pure church, because this is where Christ is! There response was to humble themselves, to give themselves before the Christ Child. What humility, what commitment, and how complete their giving of themselves to the Lord!
All of us can learn some important lessons from those Wise Men. You and I have also seen the Christ Child. We have seen him in our Christmas worship services, in the carols on the television and radio, in our Bible readings and devotions. Sadly, some will have failed to see him during the Christmas season in all the hustle and bustle.
But for those of us who have seen the Christ Child, what is our response to him? Do we fall down before him in humility?
No, we probably struggle in this area because each one of us has some sense of pride. Each one of us has a problem in lowering ourselves at times. Each one of us has a big problem in humbling ourselves before people. If we struggle to humble ourselves before people, then is it any easier to humble ourselves before God? Yet if we desire to be wise like the wise men of our text, the first thing we need to do is fall down before Jesus in humility.
The Wise Men also worshipped the Christ Child. Notice carefully that the worshiping was distinct from the falling down and from the giving of gifts to the Christ Child. Those Wise Men certainly didn’t come to impress Joseph and Mary. They certainly didn’t come to show the people on the street that they were doing something great. They came to worship the Christ Child. This is the way it ought to be with wise men today. We hope and pray that there is not a person in this church who is here because they are trying to make a good impression, or because of other people in the church, or because they hope to gain material benefits. If there is, then they are a hypocrite and their practice is out of step with what they profess.
This church is here for one reason. Our presence here is to be for that same reason – and that is to worship Christ and to grow in Christ. All the other religions in the world try to help people look better before God, so that God will finally accept them in his favour. Only in Christianity do people come to know and believe that they are helpless sinners. Yet as we come before Christ, we also hear that God provided an answer to our helplessness and our sinfulness in his Son Jesus Christ. Our response is therefore thanks and praise to God for his loving mercy. Our response is to praise and worship our Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – no matter how lowly our church building or how small our congregation might be.
There once was a man of God named John who loved his village chapel. One day, he was stopped by a friend, who happened to be a devoted fisherman. The fisherman said, “John, I’ve often wondered what attraction there is, up at the village chapel. You go there week after week to the same old chapel, see the same people, and sing the same old hymns . . .”
“Wait a minute,” interrupted John. “You often fish at the same spot, and in the same water, don’t you?”
“Yes, that’s true,” agreed the other.
John smiled and said, “Well, actually, you don’t, for the water you fished in yesterday has passed on to the sea; in the same way every time I go to the chapel, the Lord has something fresh for me.”
And how true that is! Sometimes people may wonder why we come here week after week to sing the same hymns, use the same service orders, and hear essentially the same message of forgiveness and hope. Here in our church we keep hearing the word of Christ’s death and resurrection, and that Jesus has paid for our sins and given us eternal life, yet this message is strangely new every time we hear it! Every Sunday we see the baptismal font that threatens to be lost in our familiarity – just another piece of furniture – yet it is also brand new as we continue to receive forgiveness every day through that once-in-a-lifetime event. Here we receive that same meal with the same taste of bread and wine, yet time after time it is still food and drink from heaven – always powerful, always effective, and always new.
The Wise Men knew that they had something fresh before them. And so do we who believe in Jesus Christ as our Saviour, know that every time we fall before our God and Saviour in worship, we receive something fresh and refreshing.
The Wise Men in our text didn’t just fall down before the Christ Child and worship him; they also offered him gifts. The gifts they offered were not ordinary gifts picked up from a discount store. They probably weren’t even products of their country. We know of no gold native to Babylon. Frankincense and myrrh of the finest quality came from India. So all of the gifts were probably imported and were of great value. They certainly didn’t present to the Lord what was left over.
Consider the three kinds of gifts presented and their meanings. Gold was offered to kings, the riches of royalty. Frankincense was offered to God, burned as a sweet-smelling sacrifice. An offering of Myrrh was a reminder of death, for it could be used in embalming. So here gold was offered to the King of kings, frankincense was offered to the God of gods and Lord of lords, and myrrh was offered to the One who would die for the people. He is our King, our Lord and our Saviour. How significant those gifts were at that particular time!
When we place ourselves before the Christ, what gifts do we give? Leftovers after we pay our bills and treat ourselves to a few luxuries? Or do we follow the example of the Wise Men and offer him our first fruits? And what is our motivation for giving? Let us offer our gifts for the same reason the wise men did: because Jesus Christ is our King of kings and Lord of lords, and, by his death on the cross, our personal Saviour.
Here in this house we meet with Christ. Here in this house we have the pure and perfect church. Not because we are perfect but because Christ is here in his Word, in the waters of baptism, and in his Holy Supper.
In this sense, we all come as wise men and women to worship the Christ. We have all been led here and we all humble ourselves before him. We come to offer him ourselves in humble service toward him and each other. We come to offer him small gifts that are not from our left-overs, but from our first fruits: ourselves, our time and our possessions.
We also come to receive his refreshing Word of forgiveness every week. We come to receive his living Word through the Bible readings and the sermon that inform our lives. We come to taste that heavenly meal that assures us of God’s continuing love and forgiveness. Thanks be to God that Christ allows himself to be revealed to imperfect humans so that we may come before God in peace. Amen.
Walter B. Knight