It seems strange, in this portion of the story, that the Magi and Herod both say they wish to “worship” Jesus. In them we have a master politician sold out to the Romans while pretending to be a Jew, and a group of gentiles with a foreign religion who share the Jewish hope of a messiah. What exactly would such people mean by "worship"?

The word they use is proskuneo in the Greek, from pros, meaning “forward to” and kuon, meaning “dog,” and carries the meaning “to fawn,” as a dog licking his master’s hand. Note the similarity in sound and meaning to the English word “prostrate”. Proskuneo is also the word used when Satan offers “all the kingdoms in the world” if Jesus will only worship him, and when Jesus replies by quoting the Torah’s warning not to worship anything but God. One of the Ten Commandments makes the point as well, saying, “You shall not bow down to…or worship” idols. The Hebrew for “bow down” here, shachah, means “to lie prostrate” and is closest to the word used by the Magi, Herod and Satan. But “worship” here is abad, which is translated elsewhere as “serve.” And in the original Hebrew version of the Torah passage Jesus quotes to Satan, the word “worship” is yare, meaning, “fear.”

Our “worship services” in church tend to define how we think about this subject. Yet for the most part, what we do in church has very little to do with fawning, lying prostrate, serving and fearing God. To get an idea of what the Bible really means by “worship,” we might start by looking outside the church, to the parking lot, where a car awaits that someone can barely afford, yet they are willing to give up almost anything if that’s what it takes to make the payments for that latest model. Or we might look around us in the pews, to our spouses or our children, for whom we will give anything, endure anything, and forgive anything. We might love careers that occupy our every waking thought. We might pin our hopes and joy on a win by our favorite football team.

Note how passionately we worship these created things. Consider how instinctively it comes to us, how natural it feels. Human beings were born to worship, just as we were born to breathe. We all worship something with all of our heart and soul and strength, even if that something is only ourselves. And when Jesus responds to Satan’s offer with the Torah quote mentioned above, his answer is not limited to that single verse; he is referring to that entire passage, which is a fine description of the way we worship. We love these things with all that we are. They stay in our hearts day and night. We think and talk about them constantly. We surround ourselves with them, or with symbols of them, in everything from the clothes we wear to the things we keep in our homes. We are constantly aware that they are not completely under our control, and that makes us careful to respect their importance in our lives. And at the bottom of everything, we do all this because we fear the emptiness that would remain without them. This is what it means to worship.

Herod, of course, means to do no such thing. He intends to kill this newborn king, because he deems the child a threat. But carefully note how he will rid himself of Jesus: he will do it by professing worship. How many of us do the same? How many of us strike out at the Lord by merely acting the Sunday morning Christian, when really all our heart and mind and strength are given to something else?

The Magi are less obvious. It may well be they are sincere. We know they came a long distance “from the east” to adore this child. They are “overjoyed” at the prospect of finding Jesus. And they risk their lives to protect him from King Herod, by failing to report his whereabouts as commanded. It seems the Magi’s intentions are good, but how many of us claim to worship Jesus when in our heart of hearts we merely hope to gain a favor? We are like the millionaire’s relations, only interested in him because of his money. It may be no coincidence that we derive our word, “magic” from the Magi’s title. Magic is our use of the supernatural. Miracles are the supernatural’s use of us. One difference lies in our intentions. The miracles of peace and true contentment will always come from sincere worship of the Lord, but magic yields only disappointment.

For example, Jesus promised that we could ask for anything in his name, and it would be given. Some see magic in this promise, as if by adding, “in Jesus’ name I pray,” to a list of requests, we cause the Almighty to comply. But Jesus’ name is not a magic word, of course. When we speak about a man’s “good name” we mean his reputation, or the things he stands for. It is the same with Jesus. When he says “the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name,” he means, “ask for what I would ask for, and it will be yours.” He means, “Align your wishes with the Lord’s, and He will satisfy.” He means, “Give me the full use of you, and miracles will come.”

Everything on earth ends, all of it is meaningless in comparison to the glory of the Lord. How ironic it is—how insane, really—to resist complete dependance upon God, when He alone will last. Yet all the fleeting world around us argues on its own behalf every single moment. We are so immersed in the lies we often do not even see them in ourselves. How can we resist the crazy impulse to bow down to created things? How can we find wholehearted love of God?

We cannot.

True worship cannot be entered through the power of positive thinking. There is no formula, no incantation to shift our heart’s truest desire from mere idols to the one true God. The solution is not magic; it is miraculous. The heartfelt love that leads to miracles is itself a miracle. It is given, not obtained. If you want to worship God more wholeheartedly, you must ask the Lord to make it possible, and He will begin a change in you, He will draw you, and He will free you from all those lesser gods. Then you will be free, indeed.

Next time we will move on in Matthew’s story to explore hidden links between the Hebrew scriptures and Jesus’ way of entering the world. We will find guidance for our daily lives in those connections.

Posted byAthol Dickson at 10:37 AM  


Kay said... September 16, 2007 at 1:07 PM  

Great post! I think on these things often.

Kathie said... September 25, 2007 at 7:36 PM  

Truly enjoyed your post and browsing around your blog.
Blessings from Costa Rica

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