December 17, 2000
THE CHRISTMAS STAR
When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Matthew 2:10-11
I’ve always loved Christmas lights. When I was little I liked it when our whole house was dark except for the lights on the Christmas tree. I would just sit there in the darkness and stare at those lights for a long time. It was so peaceful and beautiful, and it gave me a very special feeling.
Apparently, it runs in the family. Now my children do the same thing: they make the whole house dark except for the tree, and they gaze and gaze at the lights. Sometimes they even fall asleep at night, still lying near our shining tree.
How about you? Do you like Christmas lights too? Most people do. You string lights all around your home and all over your tree, and then, to top it all off, you put a bright star on the top of your tree. There’s something about all those lights, and especially that big star, that stirs something inside us.
The Christmas star is a favorite symbol of Christmas. The star appears on Christmas cards and atop Christmas trees in many homes. And, somehow, it’s not just another ornament. The star shines not only into our eyes but also into our hearts.
I suppose a skeptic could say that it’s all just a passing feeling. That may be true for some people, but for many of us it’s not. When we see the lights and gaze at the Christmas star, we sense the afterglow of the original Christmas star that led people from faraway lands on a long journey to see a baby. The Bible tells the story of the Christmas star in Matthew chapter 2.
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”
When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.'”
Then Herod call the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
There’s a lot about this story that we don’t know. We don’t know how many Magi there were. The Bible mentions three gifts–gold, incense, and myrhh–so tradition says there were three men. That may be true, but we don’t know for sure. For that matter, we’re not even sure what sort of people the Magi were. Tradition calls them wise men or kings, but whether they held any royal position or were the wisest people in their land, we don’t know. The original language just says magoi, or “Magi.” From what we can piece together, we know that the Magi were rich, that they studied a lot, and that they had a fascination with the stars. Beyond that, there’s a lot we don’t know about them.
There’s also a lot we don’t know about the Christmas star. We don’t know exactly what it looked like. We don’t know how God formed that light in the sky. We don’t know how the Magi knew that it represented the promised king of the Jews.
But this much we do know: we know that God used the Christmas star to lead the Magi to Jesus. The star filled them with wonder when the first realized a king had been born, and then with joy when the star had led them to the One they were seeking. The light of that star led them to the light of the world, the real Christmas Star, Jesus Christ himself.
Seek and You Will Find
The Christmas star signaled the birth of Jesus to faraway people. These were people who probably had some confused ideas. We don’t know a lot about the Magi, but we can be pretty sure that they were into astrology. They were constantly looking at the stars for special messages. But astrology is wrong. Horoscopes are superstition. The Bible warns against looking at the stars to learn the secrets of human destiny. By depending on astrology, the Magi were doing something that is at best foolish and at worst downright sinful.
But did God reject them? Did he condemn them for their mixed-up ideas? No, God helped them in their search. They were staring at the stars, and God gave them a star. They were searching in the wrong places, but at least they were searching. They somehow had a sense that the God of the Jews was about to do something great by sending a supreme ruler. They were watching the stars for some sign of it. And when God gave them the sight of the Christmas star, they set out to find the newborn King.
Maybe you are like those Magi. You’re looking for something significant, but you’re often confused. You’re looking for love and destiny and the supernatural. But you’re not quite sure where to look, and you end up looking in the wrong places. You look at the stars, or your palms, or some cards, or tea leaves, or a fortune cookie, or a lucky number, or some strange coincidence in your life. None of these is a good place to seek ultimate reality. They are not good places to search for God.
And yet, the fact that you’re searching means that something is stirring inside you and that God may be about to help you find what you’re looking for. I know of some strange cases where people were doing things they had no business doing, but they ended up getting what they considered to be a sign from God, and they ended up finding the Lord. God met them on their own turf– strange turf, even sinful turf–but God met them there and gave them a sign. From there they searched for answers in the Bible, and ended up coming to the Lord Jesus and worshiping him.
God could have judged the Magi for their astrology, and he could certainly judge us for our superstitions. But God in his mercy often meets us where we are, even in the midst of our confusion. He meets us where we are, and he leads us to where he wants us to be: on our knees before Jesus.
The Magi started with a star, but once they arrived in Jerusalem, they needed to know more about where the promised king was supposed to be born. They said, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him?” Where was the answer to their question found? In the Scriptures. The chief priests and teachers of the people, the leading experts on Scripture, knew the answer as soon as they were asked. They knew that, centuries earlier, the prophet Micah had written that the ultimate ruler of Israel would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).
That’s all the Magi needed to hear. Now they knew from God’s Word what they needed to know. They headed for Bethlehem, and the Christmas star confirmed what the Bible had said about Bethlehem. They saw the brightness of the star as they neared the place where the baby Jesus was, and, as the old King James Version puts it, “They rejoiced with exceeding great joy.” Those Magi weren’t just sort of pleased. They weren’t just happy. They weren’t just joyful. “They rejoiced with exceeding great joy.” The star that had started them on their journey was now signaling that they had arrived.
My friend, have you followed the journey of the Magi? Have you understood that in the midst of your spiritual yearnings and confusion, God is calling you to come and discover your King and Savior? Have you learned that the Old Testament part of the Bible contains specific prophecies written centuries before Jesus’ birth which point directly to Jesus and were fulfilled in his birth and life and death and resurrection? Have you read in the New Testament the who Jesus is and what he has done to make you right with God? Like the Magi, you need to know that your spiritual desires can be satisfied only in Jesus, that Holy Scripture is fulfilled in Jesus, and that you need to bow before Jesus and give yourself to him.
Sad to say, not everybody wants to worship Jesus. The news of a newborn king filled the Magi with excitement, but it filled Herod and all of Jerusalem with a very different feeling. They were disturbed by the news.
Let’s look at Herod for a moment. This old tyrant was so evil and so eager to remain in charge that he would do anything to protect his position. The first thought that popped into his mind when he heard of the baby king was how to get rid of him. When the Magi didn’t return to Herod or tell him who the baby was, Herod send his soldiers to slaughter every last baby boy in the region of Bethlehem. However, Herod missed his mark, because Jesus and Mary and Joseph had already escaped to Egypt.
Believe it or not, this vicious king was known as Herod the Great. What was so great about Herod? Well, Herod the Great was great at maintaining law and order. He was great at managing the economy and the food supply. He was great at architecture and building projects. But Herod the Great was also great at evil. He was great at thinking only of himself. He was great at keeping himself on the throne at any cost.
Herod murdered his wife, he murdered his mother, he murdered his oldest son, he murdered two other sons, and he murdered countless others whom he suspected might want to replace him as king. The Roman emperor Caesar Augustus once said it was safer to be Herod’s pig than to be his son. So it’s no surprise that the only reason Herod wanted to know about the baby king was to kill him and keep himself on the throne.
When we read about a ruthless butcher like Herod, it makes us shudder. But it would make us shudder even more if we realized how we might not be all that different from him. Herod was totally self-centered. He didn’t care whom he had to hurt to keep himself on his own throne. How many of us are like that? How many of us think only of ourselves? How many of us neglect or abandon or harm the people closest to us? How many of us are so wrapped up in our own interests that we neglect and harm our own children? We’re often more like Herod than we’d like to admit. And it all happens because we think we’re on the throne, and we don’t want anybody to knock us off our throne.
When we hear news of a new king, we may be just as disturbed as Herod and the people of Jerusalem. The gospel of Jesus is disturbing! We want to be in charge. We can’t let somebody else take over. How can we let Jesus come in and knock us off our throne? Herod tried to kill the baby Jesus. The people of Jerusalem later took part in killing the adult Jesus. And still today, says the Bible, we trample Jesus underfoot and have his blood on our hands whenever we reject him or ignore him or try in any way to keep ourselves on the throne of our lives (see Hebrews 10:26-31).
If you want to sit on your own throne and be your own ruler, then you’re like Herod. You’re probably hurting a lot of the people around you, and when Jesus comes and challenges your right to sit on the throne, you get disturbed and downright nasty.
But Herod’s not the only one in the story who had the wrong reaction to the Christmas star. What about the religious experts? All those priests and scribes who knew so much about the Bible didn’t even bother to go to Bethlehem themselves to find the baby king. They knew where Messiah would be born, but did they join in the Magi’s search? No, they gave a quick answer to the Magi’s question about Messiah’s birthplace and then returned to business as usual. They just sat there, with their wonderful heritage, with their knowledge of religious things, with the facts of the Bible stored in their heads, and they never went to worship the person that their own Bible was pointing them to.
What a tragedy! And yet how many of us do the very same thing? Maybe you grew up in a Christian family. You even have a Bible somewhere in the house, and you know some of the things that it says about Jesus. But do you ever seek Jesus? Do you love him? Do you worship him? All the religious background, all the Bibles in the world, are useless to you if you end up staying away from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Oh, my friend! Don’t think that knowing a few Bible stories is enough. You need to know the Savior! That’s the whole point of the Scriptures. You need to go to Jesus and fall down before him and worship him and give yourself to him. Don’t be so pleased with what you know. Don’t be so self-satisfied that you stay away from Jesus, the way those religious leaders did. And don’t be so self-centered that you fight against Jesus and his claims on your life, the way Herod did. Instead, be like those Magi. There was a lot they didn’t know, but one thing they did know: a king had been born, and they wanted to meet him and worship him.
Be like those Magi. What they first learned from the Christmas star, I tell you now in the name of God: The King has been born! You need to meet him and worship him and give your life to him. The Christmas star that beckoned the Magi still beckons us today. Every time we hear this story from the Bible, the star of Bethlehem shines again and announces the birthday of the King.
King of All
The Bible story of the Christmas star shows us that Jesus is King of all. He’s the King of all created things–even the stars proclaimed his birth. And he’s also the king of all people. He was born a Jew and he’s rightfully the King of the Jews, as the Magi said, but he’s King of more people than the Jews. Jesus deserves the allegiance of the whole world. Every knee must bow before him. The Magi were the first non-Jews to bow but not the last. You don’t have to be from any particular nation or race to seek Jesus and love him and worship him. He’s King of all.
You don’t have to be a religious expert to honor Jesus as your king either. Jesus isn’t just for those who already know a lot about the Bible. Those who know the Bible should love Jesus and adore him, of course, but they’re not the only ones. The story of the Christmas star and the Magi shows that those who don’t yet know much of the Bible are called by God to bow before Jesus and find in him the answer to their questions, the goal of their search, the satisfaction for their deepest longings. The Christmas star shows us that Jesus is for people of every nation and religious background. The Christmas star shows us that no matter how our spiritual search begins, we must eventually look to the Bible for answers, and our search will end only when we bow before King Jesus and give ourselves to him.
Long before Jesus was born, a prophet said, “A star will come out of Jacob, a scepter will rise out of Israel” (Numbers 24:17). Another prophet said, “Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn” (Isaiah 60:3). That prophet then spoke of camels and people coming from the east, “bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord” (Isaiah 60:6). Those ancient predictions became fact. The Christmas Star, Jesus Christ, came to earth, announced by a Christmas star in the sky. The light of the world attracted people from far off nations who brought gifts of gold and incense and myrrh. They also brought the gift of themselves, falling down in joy and adoration and love, and worshiping the newborn king.
I mentioned earlier that a lot of us enjoy looking at Christmas lights and are moved by them. Many of us are also fascinated by the expanse of the sky and by the beauty and mystery and vastness of the stars. Light has the power to awaken a sense of wonder within us. This love of light might be just sentimental, but, then again, it might be something much more. The Bible says “God is light” (1 John 1:5). The first thing God made at creation was light. And when the world fell into darkness, God sent Jesus as the light to draw us back to himself.
Right now Jesus is speaking to you. He says in the words of Scripture, “I, Jesus, am the bright Morning Star” (Revelation 22:16). “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). Are you being drawn to his light? Do you seek Jesus and worship him and seek to become like him?
The Magi were among the first to worship Jesus, but they were not the last. Right now you can join them. Follow the Christmas star to Jesus. Get on your knees in prayer. Worship the Lord Jesus Christ, and acknowledge him as your king. Then become a star that points others to Jesus. As the Bible puts it, “Shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life” (Philippians 2:15-16).
Lord Jesus, light of the world, thank you for shining into our darkness and for drawing people from every nation to you. Forgive us for trying to keep you off the throne of our hearts. Forgive us for ignoring you. Move us by your Word and Spirit to trust in you, Lord Jesus. Reign over us as king. Fill our hearts with the light of your love, joy, and peace, that we in turn may shine as Christmas stars who lead others to you. Amen.
By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.