January 6, is celebrated as Epiphany by Christians in the East and the West. For those in the East, it is a remembrance of Christ’s presentation at his baptism by John (Matt 3:13-17). For those in the West, it is a remembrance of his appearance to the Gentiles, as represented by the Magi (Matt 2:1-11). While pondering these two accounts, I came across a theme I would like the readers to consider: the importance of intention in a life of worship.
“…we saw…and we came to worship…” (2:2)
In the beginning of the account of the Magi, we see them approaching Herod for information as to the location of the one born king. In the explanation of their pilgrimage, they declare their intention: to worship, or pay proper homage, to this one. This explanation stands with verse 11 as an inclusio–seeing and worshiping–that sets the bounds of the story and reveals the necessary connection between intention and action.
Intention of the heart comes before action. The magi’s intention to worship, formed when they encountered evidence of one worthy of worship, developed well before any experience with the worthy person. Over the weeks, and possibly months, of their journey, their intention continued to develop a disposition to worship. By the time they reached Israel, nothing could keep them from finding and worshiping this one.
“…they saw…and they fell down and worshiped…” (2:11)
The action of worship is a thoughtful response to experience. Arriving at the home of Joseph and Mary and seeing the one born king, their intention to worship was brought to full flower in most dramatic fashion: they fell down and worshiped. Their bodies and emotions revealed the disposition to worship that they had developed over the course of their journey. Once they saw the child and experienced his presence, they were compelled by their heart intention and their response has become an example for us all.
“This is my beloved Son,
with whom I am well-pleased.” (3:17)
We now fast forward to another inclusio; this one much larger than the last. Matthew 3 records Jesus’ baptism by John: an act not needed for repentance, but to complete what was right (3:15). After John immerses Jesus in the river, Jesus comes out of the water, the Spirit comes down on him like a dove, and the Father proclaims his pleasure in the Son. The worth of the Son is declared in the context of intra-trinitarian life. This appearance of the Son’s glory, possibly perceived by Jesus and John alone, acknowledges the worth of the incarnate Son and declares him as the promised Messiah.
“This is my beloved Son,
with whom I am well-pleased;
listen to him.” (17:5)
The other end of the inclusio is in Matthew 17:5, where Jesus’ glory is revealed to Peter and John on the mountain. Here the Father’s declaration of the Son’s worth has an added element: the disciples’ submission to the Son. While the Son is worthy of our most servile obedience, this is not what he requires. He requires submission that is exemplified by partnership in service. The remainder of Matthew’s Gospel, culminating in the Great Commission of chapter 28, continues to unpack this partnership.
Our worship gatherings are much more than instruction or expressions of our faith, though they ought to be those things. Our worship gatherings are an opportunity for us to come together as a people on a pilgrimage that began with an intention of the heart and that leads to our becoming a people and persons worthy of the one born King.
The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen (Deut 18:15 esv).