Christ is Lord of All
Updated: Jan 23, 2021
Advent is not just about acknowledging Jesus in our waiting but adoring him. Christmas is not first about witness but about worship, notes David Mathis*. So in the words of a well-loved carol of the same name, ‘Come, all ye faithful.’ Come, ‘joyful and triumphant,’ ‘O come, let us adore’ our Christ.
Matthew stuns his readers as he notes one particular group who does come and worship the King. ‘Behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem’ (Matthew 2:1). ‘Matthew says ‘behold’ to make sure he has our attention,’ writes David Mathis. And then he notes: ‘He means for us to be surprised. This is not at all what Mary and Joseph would have expected.’
Magi, as the wise men are also known, is an ancient word referring to pagan astrologers, from which we get our English word ‘magic’. So while ‘We Three Kings’ is a delightful Christmas carol, ‘these dudes aren’t kings.’ And ‘wise men’ is like positive spin. These guys are more like sorcerers. They are stargazers watching for who knows what in the skies, rather than looking into the Scriptures, and God in his grace comes to them through the very channel of their sin. Again, Mathis astutely observes that ‘even here at Jesus’ birth, he is making wizards into worshipers worldwide. He is claiming sheep even from the priestly caste of pagan religion.
The magi are unexpected partly because the Old Testament so clearly condemns their craft. Moses had been met by court magicians in Egypt (Exodus 7:22; 8:7, 18-19) and later clearly condemned the use of such magic in Deuteronomy 18:9-14. The prophets Isaiah (47:11-15) and Jeremiah (10:1-2) added their words of judgment on those dabbling in magic and sorcery.
The New Testament also joins the refrain in Acts 8, when Peter rebukes a man named Simon, who trafficked in magic and offered money to obtain the apostles’ power to heal, and in Acts 13:6-12, as Paul denounces a magician named Elymas, who was opposing the advance of the gospel. So also John’s vision at the end of Revelation twice lists sorcerers as among those who are cast out of the new creation into the lake of fire (Rev. 21:8; 22:15).
The whole Bible plainly condemns the kind of astrology, stargazing, and dabbling in the dark arts typical of the magi. In biblical terms, the magi are plainly marked as ‘sinners.’
So, ‘we three kings of orient’ aren’t kings, but they do come to worship Jesus, the true King: “And going into the house [the magi] saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh” (Matthew 2:11).
At this point some speculate as to the symbolism of the gifts: gold represents Jesus as King, frankincense as priest, and myrrh as our sacrifice. ‘Perhaps. However, the main connection Matthew would have us make – by pairing gold and frankincense – is to Isaiah 60, where Isaiah prophesies about all the nations coming to Israel’s King,’ declares Mathis. See also Psalm 72:10-11.
This Christ is not only the King of Israel. He is the King of all nations: The King of kings. Kings in their own right will come to bow at the feet of this King, and they will bring their treasures as freewill offerings in worship – their wealth, their best cultural products and practices, of which gold and frankincense are just the beginning.
Revelation 21 picks up on Isaiah 60 and recasts this prophetic vision of the future with Jesus at the center (see Rev. 21:22-26). The nations bring their best. Gentile kings will gladly bow to the Jewish King of all kings. And not only will the glory of God light the whole Kingdom, but the single lamp that illumines all will be the Lamb – the Lamb who was slain for us. This King is the one true King, who ‘came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Matt. 20:28). He is the King who demonstrates his love for his people in that while we were still sinners – engaged in our own equivalents of stargazing and wizardry – he died for us and for our salvation (Rom. 5:8).
This Advent season we are studying the Christ or ‘Christmas’ Psalms and in this fourth week of Advent we come to Psalm 72, which declares Christ is Lord of all. It is with that understanding of the Christ that we can better grasp the story of the three wise men. For their most unexpected coming underscores the truth of Psalm 72: Christ is Lord of all, and his coming brings ‘Joy to the World.’
I hope that you are able to join us in person this week as the body gathers to worship this One who is called the Lord and the Christ, this One who was born the King of angels. ‘O Come let us adore him, Christ the Lord.’
I understand some of you are unable to get out due to sickness or compromised immune systems. Our hearts miss you deeply and we are praying regularly for you. May the grace of Christ be with you.
For Christ and For His Kingdom,
*This post was adapted from David Mathis’ new and highly recommended Advent devotional: The Christmas We Didn’t Expect.