David Mathis, Executive Pastoral Assistant for John Piper. recently wrote at Desiring God, and preached a sermon with the title, “We Three Kings of Orient Aren’t” that speaks directly to our text from Matthew 2:1-12 today:
When the magi came to Jerusalem asking, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?”, little did they know that they were asking for the very title that will be written above his head as he hung on the cross dying for sins not his own: “the king of the Jews” (Matthew 27:37). This true king of the Jews is not the usurping king, like Herod, abusing power, acting impulsively, employing deceit to bolster his crushing grip on the throats of his subjects. Rather, this king of the Jews is the one true king, the one who “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28), the one who doesn’t merely demand our homage but wins it in his shocking self-giving on our behalf—all the way to death, even death on a cross. He is the king who demonstrates his love for his people in that while they are still sinners—while we are still stargazing in our astrology and wizardry—he dies for us (Romans 5:8).
This gospel—that the baby in the manger was born to die to save sinners like us—is not just icing on the cake for our worship; it is the very substance of the cake. That Jesus died for sinners, that this Lamb was slain for us, heightens, deepens, increases, and accentuates our worship, and is at the center of God’s revealing to us who he is and who is this Jesus that we worship.
This side of the cross we know more than the magi knew. Not only would this God graciously draw them and amazingly permit them to come near to his Son, but he would provide eternal salvation for astrologer-sinners like them, and like us, through the willing death of that very baby they came to honor, the one who will be the focus of our worship forever, as we rejoice exceedingly with great joy.