Do you ever pay attention to Nativity scenes? Sometimes they seem far too clean. Mary and Joseph look more like royalty than ordinary teenagers from Nazareth. The shepherds seldom appear as rag-tag as first century sheep herders would have been. Many Nativity scenes include Magi; wise men from the East come to worship the baby Jesus. While it is unlikely that they stood around with the shepherds (they arrive at a house in Matthew 2:11), the Magi play an important role in the birth narrative of Jesus. Their worship serves as a model for authentic worship.
This Sunday, the church around the world celebrates Epiphany. The story of the wise men reminds us that Jesus came for the entire world. We find pagans bowing down and presenting gifts to Jesus. As I prepared for this week’s sermon, one word in Matthew’s gospel rang out. I had not noticed it before. Matthew tells us,
(Matthew 2:11 NIV) Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.
I had always pictured modern Christmas presents with bows and shiny paper. But the word used in the text describes more than trinkets. The word that is translated treasures is only used 16 times in the entire New Testament. The word is sometimes translated as storehouse. It is more than a gift box; it describes a treasure chest of great value. Jesus spoke of treasure,
(Matthew 6:19-21 NIV) “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Jesus uses the word three times in this teaching. This is the same Greek word that Matthew uses to describe the gifts of the Magi. This connection is significant. The Magi bring valuable, sacrificial offerings to the baby Jesus. We are instructed by the adult Jesus to store our treasure in eternal, Kingdom places. In other words, where we place our treasure is important.
Pagan Magi model worship for us. They lay their treasure at the feet of Jesus. Most Nativity scenes depict the Magi in a posture of bowing.
(Matthew 2:11 NIV) they bowed down and worshiped him.
But their bowing extends beyond their posture. It includes their giving treasure, they place their valuables at the feet of the eternal King. May our worship be more than lip service. May our worship be more than enduring a few songs and sermon each week. May it include placing our treasure, our sacrificial offerings into the work of Jesus.