Today I am continuing my series on the perspectives of those involved in the Christmas story. In my first article I talked about God’s perspective on the incarnation of Christ, and in my second article I talked about the perspectives of the shepherds. Today I am going to attempt to share with you the perspectives of the Magi, the three wise men, who followed a star from the east to find Jesus. In order to do this we are going to look at who were the magi or wise men and we are going to look at what the Christmas star or Bethlehem star might have been. Then we will tie it all together and look at God’s purpose for giving the star of Bethlehem.
The Story Of The Christmas Star
Visitors from the East
2 Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, 2 “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”
3 King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. 4 He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?” 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:
6 ‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah,
are not least among the ruling cities of Judah,
for a ruler will come from you
who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. 8 Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”
9 After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! 11 They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
12 When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.
Who Were The Three Wise Men.
There is no biblical record of the names of the three Magi or wise men or that there were just three of them. We assume there were three because of the three gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Early church tradition states that the names of the three wise men were Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar but there is no way to confirm the validity of that. However, we can discern a little about them from the text.
We know that the wise men were from the east. Most believe that they came from Persia which would have been modern day Iran. It is about a 900 mile journey that these men took to come see the Christ child. We know that they were astrologers. You cannot call them astronomers because astrology mixes religious beliefs with the stars and they did mix religious beliefs with their star gazing. These men more than likely had some knowledge of biblical prophecy since the prophet Daniel had lived in Persia during the time he wrote the book of Daniel. They also might have known about the prophecy of Balaam that speaks of a “star coming out of Jacob” (Num. 24:17)
The wise men first went to Jerusalem in their search for Jesus. The met with King Herod who was a prime example of a duplicitous government trying to use the faith of the wise men for it’s own gain. They then traveled on to Bethlehem after finding out more information about where the birth of the Messiah would take place. It is here where they see the star hovering over where Jesus was found.
Here you see that the wise men gave gifts that were costly. They gave these gifts not to receive something but to give something. They gave them as an act of worship. So as you can see, as they went along their journey, they drew closer to Jesus and came to the point that they gave up what was precious to them for the chance to worship at the feet of the King of Kings.
The Bethlehem star
The Christmas star could only have been caused by one of two sources. Either it was a natural occurrence within the laws of physics that God used as a sign to the wise men, or it was a supernatural occurrence that God used as a sign. Let’s take a look at each one and you can decide which one best fits the narrative.
- The star was a supernova. The most common explanation that most people believe is that the Christmas star was a supernova. A supernova will brilliantly light up the sky for a few months.
- The star was a conjunction of planets or stars. You might not be familiar with that term but basically what it means is that 2 planets or stars lined up behind one another to create a heavenly body that shone like a star. For instance it is what would be seen if Jupiter and Saturn lines up behind one another.
- The star was a comet. Comets when they come into our solar system look like stars.
- The star was a supernatural sign. There are those that believe that the star was not a natural phenomenon but a supernatural phenomenon. That it was of the same type or style of phenomenon as the pillar of fire by night that guided the children of Israel in the wilderness.
There are a few other explanations in science but they are very rare and very unlikely. So let’s look again at what we can learn of the Christmas star from the text in Matthew.
- The wise men saw the star as it arose. Now remember that the wise men came from the east. If it was a natural phenomenon it would have rose in the eastern sky since the stars, just like the sun, rise in the east. Yet they clearly saw it rise in the west.
- King Herod and his scholars were unaware of this phenomenon. Notice that King Herod had to ask when this occurrence took place. They were unaware that it happened. If it had been a natural phenomenon, then it would have been the talk of the town.
- The star guided them to Bethlehem. Notice that the text seems to indicate that it kept giving them direction to where Jesus was. It even says that it stopped over where He was. Again, natural phenomenon don’t stop and hover over houses.
These things would lead me to believe that the Star of Bethlehem was a supernatural sign given by God to these wise men as a sign just like the angels appearing to the shepherds while they were tending their flocks.
Why did God use a star as a sign?
The purpose of the Christmas star was to point the wise men to Jesus. The reason He used a star as a sign is because those men would understand the star as a sign. His desire is revealed in this. He wanted to communicate to these men on their level.
The Christmas star is still a sign to us today. It is a light that points to the light of the world. It is a sign that the Father of lights gave us a gift in which we could find true peace, true life, and true meaning in our life.
This Christmas, won’t you allow the Christmas star to point lead you to Jesus?
Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.