SUBJECT: The Christmas Star
READING: Matthew 2:1-12
TEXT: “We have seen his star… and are come to worship him” (2:2)
The purpose of the star was to authenticate and publicize the incarnation and to draw men to worship the celestial King. Varied speculations about the star’s appearance and searches for a mechanistic explanation violate the very purpose of the gospel narrative.
The beautiful story of the star of Bethlehem was intended by Matthew to focus our attention on the Babe of Bethlehem. The star is mentioned four times in this passage (2:2, 7, 9-10) and nowhere else in the New Testament. Let us examine three things about the Christmas star:
I. It Was a Guiding Star
“The wise men said, “Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him” (2:2). These wise men, or Magi, would never have been able to find, see, and know the young King Jesus had it not been for the star.
Have you ever sat down with your open Bible and attempted to map out the journey taken by these Magi? Whether they came from Mesopotamia, Chaldea, Persia, or Arabia, these ancient pilgrims had to travel:
1) Along Vast Distances
We read that “there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem” (2:1). Had they not been guided by that providential star they might never have attempted the lengthy journey implied in the phrase “from the east to Jerusalem,” but they were drawn irresistibly to come and worship the young King, and no distance, no matter how vast, could deter them.
What a challenge this is to those of us who have the facilities for rapid transportation, by car, train or plane, in the Western world! How it condemns us for our feeble excuses for not attending church regularly and gladly following Christ wherever He calls.
An evangelist recalled how he and his staff prayed, debated and agonized over a decision not to proceed with the first outdoor meeting of a city-wide crusade because of the strong prospect of a heavy rain. They knew that in this Latin American country rains were often more than sprinkles and that many poor people with inadequate clothing would be attending. They spread the word, but buses began corning into the city from the countryside bringing people who assured the speaker, “We don’t mind the rain”.
(The Luis Palau Story, Fleming Revell).
Stephen Olford recounts how often, in his missionary travels, he has been moved almost to tears to see people gather for services after having traveled many miles by foot over rough trails and in impossible weather. The look of expectancy on their faces clearly showed their desire not only to worship the Lord, but to wait upon the Word, as it was being preached and applied.
2) Among Varied Dangers
“There came wise men from the east to Jerusalem” (2:1). A pilgrimage of this kind in those days involved incredible dangers and difficulties. Bands of robbers ambushed the thoroughfares. Undoubtedly there were areas that were almost uncharted, where travel was arduous and uncertain, but guided by the star they traveled on until they found the Christ.
In a similar way, God has given us a Christmas star which is, in fact, Christmas day, to guide our thinking about, and our believing in, King Jesus, the Savior of the world. Many would never think of Christ otherwise. They let our Sundays pass without a thought about God; even Easter does not seem to remind them of Him. Then the Christmas star appears, Christmas day dawns, and they are guided in thought and spirit to the manger where the Christ is lying. They hear the angels saying, “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).
Will you do what the wise men did—follow the guiding star; that is, follow the meaning of Christmas until it leads you to the Savior? Whatever distances you have to travel in your thinking, or problems you have to encounter, in terms of experience, do not rest until you have met Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
A band of fugitives was crossing an eastern desert. The night was dark, but they determined to push on. Soon they lost their way, and had to spend the night in anxiety and fear. It seemed as if the night would never pass. But almost all at once the sun arose, bringing daylight and showing the way of safety. Not one of them ever forgot that sunrising.
So it should be to us in our day and generation. The star of Bethlehem should be a guiding light to us as we make our way not only to the cradle of the Christ, but also to His cross.
II. It Was a Guarding Star
“When [the wise men] had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them” (2:9). King Herod was a wicked man. If he had had his wish he would have done away with the young child Jesus. The fact is that Herod was like so many people today. What the Scriptures said about the messiah-ship of Christ was not a promise but a threat to him. He was determined to do away with the coming King. But the record tells us that as soon as the wise men had finished listening to Herod and had left his presence, God’s guarding star appeared. Instead of being influenced by what Herod had said, their minds and steps were guarded, and they reached the place “where the young child was.”
1) It Verified the Promise of the Scriptures
Even the chief priests and scribes had to admit that it was written in the prophecy of Micah, that out of Bethlehem should come “a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel” (Mic. 5:2; Matt. 2:6). God still has His guarding star: it is Christmas day!
People can say that the Bible is not true, but what about Christmas? Christmas is the fulfillment of at least 333 prophecies concerning the birth, life, death and victory of our Lord Jesus Christ. We find that both Old and New Testaments point to Christ (see Luke 24:27; John 5:39). Writing to Timothy, the apostle Paul could remind him “that from a child [he had] known the holy Scriptures, which [were] able to make [him] wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15).
And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Luke 24:27 NIVUS)
You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, (John 5:39 NIVUS)
2) It Signified the Presence of the Savior
The story tells us that the star “which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was” (2:9). Whatever Herod or the chief priests and scribes had to say about the birth of Christ did not alter the fact that Jesus, the Messiah, had really come. Men and women today try to tell us that Jesus is not alive, but we ask, once again, what about Christmas? The very fact that we are celebrating Christmastime signifies that Jesus was born to be your Savior and mine. It is the ministry of the Holy Spirit not only to guide us to the Savior, but to glorify Him (see John 16:13-14). Through the Holy Spirit we may be led to the Christ of Christmas.
Watching the program, “Christmas at the White House”, the other night woke me up to the secular nature of our society. We celebrate Christian holidays but leave Christ out. Vice President Gore gave a short, politically correct speech where he had to struggle on purpose not to say or name the Name of Christ. A politically correct Christmas celebrates the qualities of love and generosity without acknowledging the source of it all which is Christ. But then I praised God because of the music. They may not claim Christ in word, but in song he is glorified. The words of the music has been emblazoned on our minds and hearts through the Holy Spirit. True religion has become part of our culture. But Vice President Gore either didn’t know or want to repeat the words. He just moved his lips in a way that didn’t match the music. I could tell.
…God has given us a two-faceted star to guard the truth, as it is in Jesus Christ; it is the star of the Holy Scriptures and the Holy Spirit.
But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. (John 16:13-14 NIVUS)
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17 NIVUS)
“John Timmerman, Professor Emeritus of English at Calvin College, has written: ‘Jesus came into this world as Immanuel, transforming all things. He turned darkness into light and tears into joy.’ To illustrate this, Timmerman pointed to the Dark Ages. He said that in 633, Northumbria was a pagan kingdom. One evening King Oswald and his nobles took refuge in a manor hall from a winter storm. A large fire burned brightly while snow and hail beat upon the walls outside. Although the men enjoyed shelter for their bodies, their spirits were tempest-tossed. Finally a missionary named Aidan stood up and spoke to them of Jesus, the light of the world. After some debate, one nobleman commented on the murky mystery of man’s life. He compared it to a sparrow warming itself in the hall, which would soon fly off into the cold and dark forever. Then he declared, ‘In the missionary’s teaching there is a ray of hope. As this new doctrine brings something more of certainty, it deserves to be received.’ Through the blessing of God, it was believed. The radiance of Christ’s saving grace flooded the entire area, transforming Northumbria and affecting all of England”.
(Henry G. Bosch, Our Daily Bread).
III. It Was a Gladdening Star
“When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy” (2:10). Up until then the star had been moving, guiding and guarding, but suddenly it stood over where the young child was.
1) The Gladness of Finding Christ
“And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother” (2:11). Any doubt or fear as to whether Jesus was a real person, a real King, a real Savior, vanished immediately and joy and gladness filled their hearts. Without delay they fell down and worshiped Him, “and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh” (2:11).
Scholars have speculated down through the centuries concerning the meaning of these gifts. It is generally agreed, however, that the wise men’s presents were intended to symbolize that which they recognized in the being and nature of the King before whom they worshiped. The gold was a recognition of His sovereignty; the frankincense was a recognition of His deity. Frankincense was that which the priests used in offerings made to God. The myrrh was the recognition of His humanity. The fact that myrrh was employed in the embalming of the dead may have prefigured His atoning death. They had found the Christ, and His sovereignty had claimed their allegiance, His deity had commanded their reverence, and His humanity had compelled their acceptance. Their hearts were full of joy and gladness.
Let me assure you that God’s Christmas star can also gladden your life. The fact that Christmas day is here for us once again reminds us that Jesus is a real King, a real God, and a real Man. Will you not do what the wise men did: open the treasures of your heart to Him and acknowledge His sovereignty, deity and humanity in your life? He waits for this allegiance, reverence and acceptance. If only you will respond to the Christ of Bethlehem you will be filled with the joy of the Christmas star.
The Bible tells us in 1Peter 2:9 that we are also as he is if we are in him by faith; that we are also kings and priests and sons.
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9 NIVUS)
2) The Gladness of following Christ
We read that “being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way” (2:12). What they had seen, heard and experienced of the child Jesus determined their future action. Despite the invitation of Herod to return to Jerusalem they “departed into their own country another way.” What mattered to them was following God’s leading—cost what it would.
No one can meet the Lord Jesus and be the same again. He changes our whole manner of life. When He becomes the Christ and Savior of Bethlehem to us He transforms both our character and our conduct.
When a minister’s wife joined a holiday tour to the Holy Land she did not know that she would “meet” Christ at Christmas. As she visited the well at Sychar and heard of Christ’s encounter with the Samaritan woman she found that she could identify with that woman who had stood there so long ago. She wrote, “I knew that although I had not had five husbands and had never lived with a man who was not my husband, Jesus saw me through the same eyes with which he had viewed her. I became aware of my life and all it contained: my proper upbringing, my church membership, my upright, moral, above-reproach social life, my image as a minister’s wife. Suddenly I saw it all as filthy rags. My tears flowed and my heart cried out for forgiveness.” Two days later, kneeling beside a bench near the Garden Tomb, she prayed, “Dear God, cleanse me” and then joined others in the singing of “He Lives.” “Since that Christmas,” she testified, “God through his Holy Spirit has been gently leading me for these eight years.
(Decision, Dec. 1980).
Sir Harry Lauder used to tell of a man and his small son who were walking down the streets of a large American city at Christmastime years ago. The child was delighted to see the many service stars hanging in the windows of homes—each star proudly proclaiming the fact that a son was in the service of his country. He clapped his hands excitedly as he approached each new star and was duly impressed by those homes with more than one star in the window. Presently they came to a wide gap between the houses, and through the black velvet of the sky the evening star shone brightly. Oh look, Daddy,” cried the little boy, “God must have given His son, for He has a star in His window.”
The little boy was right, for nearly two thousand years ago God put a star in the heavens to announce the gift of His Son that first Christmas day. Ever since, each year has had its Christmas. What the star was to those wise men from the East, Christmas day is to us.
What star do you follow? Is it Christ? We have seen what a guiding, guarding and gladdening star Christmas day is. But it is Christ that is our perfect guide because he never gets lost. It is Christ that is our perfect guard because he won the war against sin and death. It is Christ that is our perfect gladness because he has given us eternal life. The Christmas star points to Christ, but what matters most is that it reflects his glory.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14 NIVUS)
This star may be gone from the heavens, having served its purpose. But through the Holy Spirit it still ever points to Christ, who wants to be born in your heart. May our response be:
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus!
There is room in my heart for Thee. Emily E. S. Elliott
"I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel. He will crush the foreheads of Moab, the skulls of all the sons of Sheth. (Numbers 24:17 NIVUS)
And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. (2 Peter 1:19 NIVUS)
"I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star." (Revelation 22:16 NIVUS)
Who were the Wise Men in the long ago?
Not Herod, fearful lest he lose his throne;
Not Pharisees, too proud to claim their own;
Not priests and scribes whose province was to know;
Not money changers running too and fro;
But three who traveled, weary and alone,
With dauntless faith, because before them shone
The star that led them to a manger low.
Who are the Wise Men now, when all is told?
Not men of science; not the great and strong;
Not those who wear a kingly diadem;
Not those whose eager hands pile high the gold;
But those amid the tumult and the throng
Who follow still the star of Bethlehem.
--James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988), p. 487.
Many people have heard of the outstanding exploits of Blondin, the tightrope walker. Blondin amused and amazed thousands of people as he made his way over Niagara Falls on a slender rope stretched from shore to shore. He never faltered or failed. But Blondin had a secret. As he made his way over the rope, he would keep his eyes fixed on a large silver star which he had erected at the far end. The star was the center of his attention and guided him to the other side.
In running the heavenly race the believer must look to his Star -- the bright and morning Star, the Lord Jesus. He has run the race and now bids his followers to run the race, keeping their eyes fixed on himself as the goal.
Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Timothy 1:17 NIVUS)