Why did the wise men travel from Iraq to Judea? What made them make the long and difficult journey from the East to the Middle East?
According to Matthew 2 it was not merely to see the new-born King of the Jews and it was not only to give him precious gifts. Rather in their own words, “We have seen his star in the East and are come to worship him” (v.2). And on arriving in Bethlehem and finding the King, “they fell down and worshipped him.”
The Greek word used is proskuneo. This verb was used amongst the Greeks for the adoration of the gods, for bowing down before them, for prostrating oneself and for kneeling before them. It was also used with the arrival of the deification of the Roman Emperor of the external act of prostrating oneself before him. Thus it meant “ I worship, I adore, I bow down and I prostrate myself” and it is used in the New Testament for the adoration and worship of God the Father and of the Lord Jesus Christ.
So the wise men have in mind and intention the act of adoring, worshipping and prostrating themselves before an infant boy whom they judge to be both King of the Jews and also divine. Certainly they brought gifts appropriate for a King but these gifts were signs of adoration and worship, not the primary purpose of their hazardous and difficult journey and pilgrimage. That is, they did not primarily travel to give the precious gifts but they gave the gifts as a sign and seal of their acknowledgement of the identity and of the worth of the person they knew as King of the Jews.
It is in the Book of Revelation that this verb is used distinctly of adoration and worship in contrast to thanksgiving. In the hymns addressed to God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ the worship is of God as God in terms of his unique attributes, nature and character as well as of his mighty works of creation, redemption and consummation ( see chapters 4, 5, 7, 11, 12, 15,16,19 for these hymns).
Of course, worship begins inside the person but it overflows into external behaviour and attitude – thus obeisance, prostration, bowing down, kneeling and uttering songs of pure praise flow from an adoring heart & mind.
To jump over the centuries…. Is it not the case that the modern church in much of its “relevant” liturgy and services has lost the dimension of proskuneo, “I worship and adore thee, O LORD God”? It has held on to prayer as thanksgiving to God and to prayer as containing praise; but, in the main, it has tended to see prayer as a means to an end, and the end is not the pure worship of God as God, but rather the cultivation of what may be called a religious ethos and/or attitude or a mindset for Christian mission or community or the like.
What we can learn from the Wise Men, and from the Greek verb used to describe them, is that the basic and primary calling of Christians individually and corporately is “to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.” Everything else is subordinate to this and all good things actually flow from this.
And further, and here is a dimension lost virtually completely, with true worship comes “the fear of the Lord” the reverence and awe due to the Almighty God. “FEAR GOD AND GIVE HIM GLORY” (Rev. 14:7).
The Revd Dr Peter Toon January 1, 2005