Worship as Submission

In this past Sunday’s sermon, I spoke about how, in Matthew 2, the Wise Men came to worship Jesus. In that sermon, I focussed on how this story represents all the nations of the earth worshipping Jesus as the true King and how the Wise Men’s gifts proclaim Jesus as our King, God, and Sacrifice.

However, this passage can also teach us something important about worship: a key aspect of worship is submission.

Submission is not something that we talk about a lot and it certainly isn’t a popular topic in our culture (which prefers to emphasise personal empowerment and autonomy). But these Magi, these foreign noblemen give us a great example of Biblical worship:

Mt. 2:11 Entering the house, they saw the child with Mary His mother, and falling to their knees, they worshipped Him.

First of all, when the Wise Men see Jesus, we see themfalling to their knees”. The term used here comes from the Greek word, piptō, which means ‘to fall, to prostrate, etc.’ Obviously, prostration is a posture of submission. The whole idea behind bowing, kneeling, or prostrating to someone in authority is that you are putting yourself in a position of vulnerability, a position where the other person can do almost literally anything to you while you remain defenceless. In other words, prostration is a position of submission and trust where you are placing your life in the other person’s hands.

An Orthodox Christian prostrating himself in worship

An Orthodox Christian prostrating himself in worship

Secondly, the way Matthew records this story he intentionally builds on this idea when he says that “they worshipped Him.” We can see this because the word Matthew uses for worship is the Greek word, proskuneō. This word, which is used 60x in the New Testament,  literally means ‘to kiss-toward’ and is referring to the ancient custom of “prostrating oneself before persons and kissing their feet or the hem of their garment…”.  It means to express “one’s complete dependence on or submission to a high authority figure…” [BDAG]

King Jehu of Judah prostrating before Assyrian King Shalmaneser III

King Jehu of Judah prostrating before Assyrian King Shalmaneser III

By pairing these two words, piptō and proskuneō Matthew is emphasising the Magi’s submission to Jesus in worship. In their most literal sense, these words are saying that the Wise Men prostrated themselves before Jesus, kissing his feet!

This was an overt act of submission to Jesus as their King. So it’s no wonder that Herod reacts as he does:

Mt. 2:16 Then Herod, when he saw that he had been outwitted by the wise men, flew into a rage. He gave orders to massacre all the male children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, in keeping with the time he had learned from the wise men.

Why was Herod so furious?

Because worship is about submission, and submission is a declaration of allegiance! By pledging their allegiance to Jesus, the Magi were making a public statement that Jesus was King and Herod was not, that Jesus was Lord and Caesar Augustus was not. This helps us understand that Christian worship has real-world social implications; worship is a political statement!

I’ll close today’s post on that thought and allow you to ponder it and wrestle with its implications. Perhaps Psalm 146 can help spur on some of these thoughts:

Psalm 146

1 Hallelujah!
My soul, praise the Lord.
2 I will praise the Lord all my life;
I will sing to my God as long as I live.
3 Do not trust in nobles,
in man, who cannot save.
4 When his breath leaves him,
he returns to the ground;
on that day his plans die.
5 Happy is the one whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord his God,
6 the Maker of heaven and earth,
the sea and everything in them.
He remains faithful forever,
7 executing justice for the exploited
and giving food to the hungry.
The Lord frees prisoners.
8 The Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord raises up those who are oppressed.
The Lord loves the righteous.
9 The Lord protects foreigners
and helps the fatherless and the widow,
but He frustrates the ways of the wicked.
10 The Lord reigns forever;
Zion, your God reigns for all generations.