Sermon title:

The Mystery of the Christmas Star

Immanuel Baptist Church – Sunday, December 13, 2020

 

 

If you follow the news online,

on TV or in the newspapers,

you may have noticed stories in recent days

with the following headlines:

 

“‘Christmas Star’ will appear on Dec 21st

as Jupiter and Saturn align,”

 

“Spectacular Christmas star

appearing this month.

When is the best time to see it?”

 

And,

“Rare ‘Christmas star’

will light up the sky on winter solstice.”

 

The stories go on to explain that 2020 will see

a rare occurrence that hasn’t happened

for 800 years

and that some claim may be what led the Wise Men

to the baby Jesus in Bethlehem 2000 years ago.

 

The more technical website Astronomy.com

explains it this way:   It says,

On December 21, Jupiter and Saturn

will appear closer in Earth’s night sky

than they have since 1226 A.D.

 

The two bright planets will appear to be separated

by just 1/5th the width of the moon

and may appear, at first glance,

to be just one bright star.

Some of the news stories point out

that the last time this happened

was almost 800 years ago,

when Genghis Khan invaded Russia

and the 5th Crusade marched into Egypt.

 

And some of the news reports suggest this to be

one of the theories to explain

the biblical “Christmas Star.”

 

Another report says,

“Some astronomers theorize

that the Star of Bethlehem in the biblical story

may have been a rare triple conjunction

of Jupiter, Saturn and Venus.

Others point to a supernova

around 5 B.C. as a possible explanation.”

 

Venus is the brightest of all the planets,

and adding it to what will appear on Dec 21st this year

would have made a very noticeable

stellar event.

 

And a supernova is an exploding star—

which looks like an extremely bright star

that can be seen even during the daytime.

 

Other theories speculate that a comet

may have lit up the sky—visible both day and night

as the Christmas Star 2000 years ago.

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So, what about these news reports and theories?

 

Do they really explain how Wise Men from the East

were led to the baby Jesus?

 

This is just one of the mysteries

surrounding the Star of Bethlehem:

what, exactly, was it?

 

Another mystery involves the question of why

God would show a star to Eastern astrologers,

when astrology is a form of divination

condemned in the Bible—

a practice forbidden to Jews

and Christians alike.

 

Why would God announce Jesus’ birth

 to pagan followers of some false Eastern religion,

instead of to his Chosen People, the Jews?

 

And, why did the Christmas star,

lead the Wise Men to Jerusalem—

—some people ask—

where their appearance tipped off King Herod

to the birth of a rival

to his family’s hereditary throne,

leading to Herod’s slaughter of the babies of Bethlehem?

 

Why didn’t the star lead the Wise Men

straight to Bethlehem, in the first place?

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These questions all contribute to the mystery

that surrounds the Christmas star,

and that leads even non-Christians

to speculate about it in discussions

that generate headline news.

 

Well, if we look more closely at the Bible,

we can put most of these mysteries to rest.

 

Some of these questions are generated

by failure to pay attention to

what Scripture actually says,

or failure to read and believe the Bible at all.

 

So, let’s take a closer look.

 

The account begins

with the 1st Verse of Matthew Chapter 2.

1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of King Herod, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, 2 “Where is he who is born King of the Jews? For we saw his star in the east, and have come to worship him.”

 

Now notice what the Scripture says about the star,

and what it doesn’t say.

 

Does it say that the star led them to Jerusalem?

 

No, it says simply that “we saw his star in the east.

 

The Wise Men saw the star back home, in the east,

where they came from—probably in Babylon.

 

It does not say that the Star went on ahead of them,

leading them to Jerusalem.

 

While in the East, they interpreted this star to mean that

a new “King of the Jews” had been born.

 

So, naturally, they went to the Jewish capital Jerusalem

expecting to find the newborn King there.

 

A popular Christmas Carol says they

went through “field and fountain, moor and mountain,

following yonder star”—

but the Bible doesn’t say that.

 

It does not say they followed the star to Jerusalem.

 

Rather, foreigners would expect Jerusalem was where

the King of the Jews would be born, so they went there.

 

Their arrival on such a mission

caused quite a stir in the city.

 

And King Herod was upset at the thought of a new King

who would rule instead of his royal heirs to the throne.

 

Matthew’s account continues,

3 When King Herod heard it, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he asked them where the Christ would be born. 5 They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for this is written through the prophet,

6 ‘You Bethlehem, land of Judah,

are in no way least among the princes of Judah:

for out of you shall come a governor,

who shall shepherd my people, Israel.’” [Micah 5:2]

7 Then Herod secretly called the wise men, and learned from them exactly what time the star appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem, and said, “Go and search diligently for the young child. When you have found him, bring me word, so that I also may come and worship him.”

 

Bethlehem was about 5 miles South of Jerusalem,

and the Wise Men resumed their trek,

for that short distance.

 

The Bible tells us it was only at this point

that the Wise Men saw the Star again—

and this time it did lead them.

 

We read,

9 They, having heard the king, went their way; and behold, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, until it came and stood over where the young child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.

 

So, it’s clear that this was the first time, now,

that they saw the Star again—

the first time since they had seen it

back home in the East.

 

And now the Star behaved differently,

and actually began to lead them,

as they took the road heading South

for the 5-mile trip from Jerusalem to Bethlehem.

 

The Star now

“went before them, until it came and stood over where the young child was.”

 

So, now they actually followed the Star,

and it led them to the exact place where baby Jesus was.

 

Verse 11 says,

11 They came into the house and saw the young child with Mary, his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him.

 

This was some time after Jesus’ birth,

so baby Jesus was no longer in a manger in a stable,

but was in a house with Mary.

 

And the Star leading the Wise Men

came and stood over that house to identify it

as the place for them to find the newborn King.

 

This behavior of that Star now—

leading the way to Bethlehem,

and then stopping

and hovering over a particular house—

this proves it was not a supernova,

or a comet,

or a conjunction of planets like Jupiter, Saturn and Venus.

 

Any natural celestial phenomenon like that

would not have been able

to change course like that in the sky.

 

Planets, comets and supernova could not have

suddenly re-appeared,

after not being seen since they left the East,

and could not have

led the way along the road heading south for 5 miles

from Jerusalem to Bethlehem.

 

Planets, comets and supernova could not have

stopped and hovered over the house

where the baby Jesus was.

 

No, the Christmas Star was not any

natural phenomenon known to man.

 

It was a supernatural sign sent from God

to accomplish his will supernaturally.

 

Only a supernatural intervention from God

could explain a bright object in the sky

acting like that.

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So, that solves the mystery of what the Christmas Star

was and was not.

 

But, another mystery remains:

 

Why would God announce Christ’s birth

by showing a sign from heaven

to non-Jewish pagan astrologers?

—which is what those Wise Men were.

 

Many English translations call them the “Magi”—

transliterating the Greek word μάγοι (magoi)

used by the Gospel writer Luke.

 

Strong's Greek dictionary defines it as

“A sorcerer, a magician, a wizard.”

 

The only other place in the New Testament

where the term occurs is at Acts 13:6 and 8

where it refers to the false prophet Elymas.

 

He is called a “MAGON” in Greek—

the singular for MAGI—

and English translations render it as

a “magician” or a “sorcerer.”

 

The Magi from the East who visited the baby Jesus

must have been practicers of astrology—

a form of magic or sorcery

that involves star gazing

and interpreting signs in the stars.

 

Astrology is a form of divination,

and all divination is prohibited by God.

 

Astrology is not to be confused with astronomy.

 

While astronomy is the scientific study of objects in the sky,

astrology is a form of fortune-telling

that claims to use stars and planets

to predict the future.

 

Those who practice astrology use Horoscopes

and consult the signs of the Zodiac

to get information by supernatural means

apart from God,

and contrary to God’s will.

 

Other forms of divination include Tarot cards,

palm reading, crystal ball gazing,

water witching using a divining rod,

consulting a Quija board

and so on.

 

The Bible condemns all forms of divination at

Deuteronomy 11:

where it says,

10Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, practices divination or conjury, interprets omens, practices sorcery, 11casts spells, consults a medium or spiritist, or inquires of the dead.12For whoever does these things is detestable to the LORD.

 

Astrology would have been among the magic arts

that new believers in Ephesus gave up

when they became Christians

and confessed and left their sins behind.

 

Acts Chapter 19 tells us,

18 ...many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. 19And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. 20So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.

 

So, since who confess their sins and turn to God

give up magic and the Zodiac and Horoscopes

and other aspects of astrology,

why would God send the Christmas Star

to pagan Magi or astrologers?

 

We don’t really know,

because the Bible doesn’t tell us.

 

We can only speculate.

 

It may relate to the fact that Jesus came,

not just for the Jews,

but also for Gentiles of every nationality.

 

And, at that point of time in mankind’s history,

all of the non-Jewish people of the earth were pagans

and practiced false worship like astrology

and idolatry.

 

They didn’t have the Law God gave to the Jews,

so they were not breaking that law

when they practiced astrology

in ignorance of God’s will.

 

So, God was reaching out to them where they were,

and calling them to come bow before the baby Jesus.

 

Or, God may have sent the Christmas Star to pagan foreigners

because the people of Jerusalem

wouldn’t have reacted appreciatively

like those pagan Wise Men did.

 

Centuries earlier, on another occasion,

Jeremiah 5:1 indicated

there was no one righteous in that city.

“Run up and down every street in Jerusalem,” says the LORD. “Look high and low; search throughout the city! If you can find even one just and honest person, I will not destroy the city.

 

But no just and honest person could be found.

 

Just think!  When the Wise Men arrived

and did make known to the people of Jerusalem

that their promised Messianic King had been born,

no one showed any appreciation.

 

No one accompanied them to Bethlehem.

 

The people of Jerusalem were not like

the shepherds guarding their flocks by night

outside Bethlehem,

who dropped everything

and ran to see the baby Jesus.

 

Even Herod, who told the Wise Men[ NO SLIDE ]

“Go and search diligently for the young child. When you have found him, bring me word, so that I also may come and worship him.”

—even Herod was lying,

and actually wanted to kill the newborn baby.

 

So, maybe that’s why God sent the Christmas Star

to pagan foreigners

instead of to anyone in Jerusalem.

 

Only pagan foreigners would pack up their treasures,

mount their camels,

and set out on a 4-month-long trip

to bow down in worship

before the newborn baby Jesus.

 

The people of Jerusalem were too hard-hearted

to do a thing like that—

just as they were too hardened in their sins

30 years later when John the Baptist came

and called them to repent of their sins,

and just as they hard-heartedly

shouted out for Pontius Pilate

to send Jesus to the cross.

 

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So, we’ve solved some parts

of the mystery of the Christmas Star,

but other parts remain a mystery.

 

We’ve seen proof that it was not

just some ordinary comet or supernova

or conjunction of planets.

 

It was not like the close alignment of Jupiter and Saturn

that the news media are telling us

will occur on December 21st this year.

 

The Christmas Star was a miraculous sign

specially sent by God.

 

But it’s still a mystery why God sent it

to the Magi, those pagan Babylonian astrologers.

 

Logically, though, it would seem

to have something to do with

Christ being, not just the Messiah of the Jews,

but also the Savior of the world—

the Savior for all of us,

no matter what our nationality.

 

Our ancestors were like those pagan Wise Men,

looking to Horoscopes and the Zodiac,

Tarot cards, and other forms of divination

and false hocus-pocus,

because our ancestors didn’t know the true God,

the God of Israel.

 

But God sent his Son to save us, too, not just the Jews.

 

Romans 11:25 says,

I want you to understand this mystery, dear brothers and sisters, so that you will not feel proud about yourselves. Some of the people of Israel have hard hearts, but this will last only until the full number of Gentiles comes to Christ.

 

We Gentiles who come to Christ

are a lot like those pagan Babylonian astrologers.

 

We were pagan sinners,

separated from God by our sin and our ignorance.

 

We were looking for answers

in all the wrong places.

 

Then, suddenly, God made the light of Christ

shine into our hearts,

and he drew us to himself,

just as he sent that Star

to draw the Magi to Bethlehem.

 

They bowed in worship before the newborn King

and gave him their treasures.

 

May the true story of the Christmas Star

move us to fall to our knees

in appreciation and worship!

 

May it move us to follow Jesus

and to give our best service

to Christ the King!